Kingdom of predictability

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 08/09/2012

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MOONRISE KINGDOM

Director Wes Anderson
93 min

Wes Anderson's films are immediately identifiable - and that's the problem.

Ever since his 1998 film Rushmore, Anderson's films seem to operate by checklist: almost always featuring eccentric outsiders as protagonists, offbeat soundtracks and (usually) Bill Murray.

Moonrise Kingdom adheres so closely to Anderson's "conventions" that it's almost a commentary of them, but there's something aggressive lurking beneath its surface.

Set in a fictional New England scout camp over two days in September 1965, 12-year-old orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has gone awol.

He's left the scout camp to be with Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Sam wants them to retrace the pioneers' journey, like a young Lewis and Clark (he even wears a coonskin cap).

On their trail are Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), the well-meaning, overly earnest scoutmaster Randy Ward (Edward Norton), policeman Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and the sinister "Social Services" (Tilda Swinton).

Sam's fellow scouts take some persuading to help; they always found him a bit strange.

The adult cast are uniformly superb, but they're all assigned to predetermined caricatures, which are moved around like chess pieces. In contrast, there's a strong emotional connection between the two leads and their awkward courtship is beautifully handled.

The kohl-eyed Hayward, is a particularly striking presence, while Gilman's performance suggests he's still, thankfully, got a lot of growing up to do.

For all their precociousness, these are not miniature adults. They're genuinely damaged kids.

Unfortunately, they're almost suffocated by Anderson's usual array of plot contrivances, some of which work (a children's performance of a Benjamin Britten opera), some which merely irritate (Bob Balaban's cameo as a meteorologist-cum-narrator).

Anderson's attention to detail is admirable: the film is intricately constructed, right down to the surprisingly authentic recreation of an old scout camp. But he never lets this film breathe.

Moonrise Kingdom is engagingly performed, beautiful looking and often charming. But it's still a Wes Anderson film, with all the good and bad that entails.

The two young kids might eventually grow up, but Anderson won't.

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- The Timaru Herald

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