Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The
Following a washed-up oceanographer as he and his crew embark on a quest to find an elusive shark, Wes Anderson's 'The Life Aquatic' is an eclectic film filled with vignettes of quirky brilliance. But as a cohesive whole, it lacks a bit of heart and soul.
Meet internationally renown oceanographer and documentarian Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and some of his Team Zissou: Eleanor Zissou (Anjelica Huston), his estranged wife and the "brains behind the operation"; Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe), the loyal chief engineer; and Oseary Drakoulias (Michael Gambon), the septuagenarian producer. Unfortunately, Zissou's days are numbered, having been pushed close to bankruptcy by his arch rival, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum). But what's really bothering Zissou is that his best friend and longtime collaborator, Esteban (Seymour Cassel), has been eaten by an underwater assailant known as the Jaguar Shark. Charged by vengeance, Zissou sets out on his boat, The Belafonte, to hunt down the predator in one last filmed expedition. He is joined by two new Team Zissou members: Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a young airline copilot who may be Zissou's son, and Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), a beautiful and pregnant journalist assigned to write a profile of Zissou. Along the way, they face overwhelming complications, including marauding pirates, kidnappings and a maelstrom of human yearning.
Bill Murray has got to be one of the funniest people on the planet, without ever seeming to be, and his collaborations with director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) have happily exploited that wellspring of comic talent. Zissou is pure Murray: slightly acerbic, slightly aloof, not terribly likable, but deeply vulnerable. Sure, the actor can play this part in his sleep, but somehow he never makes it boring. The rest of the cast also measures up. Huston is striking as the austere Eleanor, who is basically the glue that holds Zissou together. Wilson, another Anderson staple, is once again playing a very earnest fellow who simply wants to connect with the man who could be his long-lost father, while also finding a little love with Jane. As the journalist, the always good Blanchett, who was actually pregnant during the making of Aquatic, is perfect as the emotional conduit between Zissou and Ned. Dafoe finally gets to be funny in a film--and we don't count his turn as a surly fish in Finding Nemo--as the fiercely devoted Klaus, who's a bit jealous of Ned. But the pièce de résistance is Brazilian actor Seu Jorge as The Belafonte's safety expert, who regularly serenades the team with Portuguese renditions of David Bowie songs. Classic stuff.
In what is definitely the director's most ambitious film to date--and he may be tired of hearing that--The Life Aquatic further highlights Wes Anderson's twisted yet exquisitely witty sensibilities that were evident in his three previous efforts, Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Paying obvious homage to the stiff documentaries made by the legendary Jacques Cousteau, as well as incorporating references to such movies as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach expertly hand us the skewed universe of Zissou in hilariously played-out sequences. We can also clearly see where the bigger budget went when Team Anderson sets out to sea. There's the spectacular Belafonte set, with its individual compartments in which the actors move about, and the campy, stop-motion special effects of the odd sea life Zissou and gang encounter. While all of this makes for an enjoyable ride, the movie ultimately lacks a cohesive soul. There is a small amount of redemption at the end when Zissou comes to terms with his life and ambitions, but it seems tacked on as a way to tie everything up.
Although The Life Aquatic may seem a little scattered, unsympathetic and distant at times, Wes Anderson, and his muse Bill Murray, have still turned in another idiosyncratic gem. So come on in, the water is fine.