The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - 2004
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is directed and co-written by Wes Anderson. The story centers around famed oceanographer and documentarian Steve Zissou as he embarks on a revenge mission to hunt down the shark that killed his mentor and father figure. Anderson has always benefited from having a great cast and this one is by far one of the better ones. This movie stars Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Noah Taylor and Michael Gambon, just to name a few. Honestly there is not one single weak link in this cast in both the casting and their performance. I could easily do an entire review talking about every single one of them, but don’t you fear, I won’t.
First let’s talk Anderson. You can take a still frame out of any moment in any of his films and show it to someone and they will know it’s an Anderson movie. His attention to detail for every second he puts to film is something to be in awe of. The shot composition along with the actor placement and the set decoration are just pure cinematic joy for your eyes. He loves to color-coordinate his actors, which gives the film a unique color palate and helps the audience to quickly identify them even during erratic action scenes. While he is famous for his perfectly symmetrical shots, I love his tracking shots of the actors moving around in the boat, always finding another actor minding his business.
Let’s talk about the boat! The set created for the boat is flat out amazing. Sorry, I’m trying not to just gush over this movie but it’s hard. Anderson and set decorator Gretchen Rau created a practical set where the actors are free to play with their surroundings. There are multiple scenes where Murray is having a conversation with Wilson and they are walking around the boat. All I can compare it to is a Barbie Doll house and Anderson is the child playing with his dolls. In a climate of overused CGI environments, watching a movie with so many practical effects brings a smile to my face.
Now comes the hard part - what actors do I want to highlight? I mean, I can go the obvious route with Bill Murray as the titular Steve Zissou. His gives one of his best performances that is often overlooked due to the large filmography he has accumulated. But that’s too easy. I can go with Owen Wilson as Ned Plimpton, lost son of Zissou searching for a parental figure after the death of his mother. Wilson actually didn’t play himself and gave a sweet and believable performance… nah not him. I got it: Cate Blanchett as Jane Winslett-Richardson, a pregnant reporter writing a cover story on the last Zissou documentary. Being one of Blanchett’s more down to earth characters she has a familiarity to her, allowing the audience to instantly connect with her… maybe, I’ll get back to her. What about Angelica Huston as Eleanor Zissou, the wife and brains behind the Zissou? Huston’s presence and the way she stares down Murray is just a sight to be seen. Wait, Goldblum! You can’t go wrong talking about Goldblum. He plays Zissou’s rival and the ex-husband of Eleanor, a clean-cut preppy version of an oceanographer. I mean, he plays Goldblum. I honestly don’t have anything else to add there. Maybe I’ll just skip the individual actors and just say that the combination of on-point acting and perfect writing is what defines this movie.
I know that Anderson’s deadpan humor is not everyone’s cup of tea, but this movie is hilarious. There are so many jokes packed in its 2 hour runtime that it merits repeated watches just so you can catch all of them. Along with his humor, Anderson has always found a way to touch on personal emotions and Aquatic is no exception. After Zissou lost his father figure he was left alone in the world. Having his marriage on the rocks and his fame circling down the drain, he is left searching for a purpose. At first, he thinks it is revenge that will drive him forward in this quest, but it’s his new father and son relationship where he finds his new purpose. There is a lot more you can excerpt for this funny character story, but it all boils down to Steve’s constant search for purpose and acceptance, finding it in his adventures, his wife, mistresses, crew members and his long lost “son”.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is one of my all-time favorites, always giving me something new to marvel at during repeat watching. The music, the sets, the shot composition, the acting, the directing, the writing and the editing all come together to forma what can only be described as a Wes MotherF***ing Anderson movie. I guess you know by now why I love movies… it’s Anderson.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is currently streaming on Netflix. Catch it before a Jaguar Shark eats it.
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