Bewitching 'Moonrise Kingdom' confounds expectations

Bewitching 'Moonrise Kingdom' confounds expectations

Standing out from the crowd takes courage and an unshakable self-belief to persist when others mock your efforts.

Since his quirky 1996 debut ‘Bottle Rocket’ starring university roommate Owen Wilson, writer-director Wes Anderson has ploughed his own creative furrow in an industry that prizes box office takings over originality.

Oscar nominations for his script to ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ and his direction of the stop-motion animation ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ are as close as Anderson has come to a warm welcome to Hollywood’s inner sanctum.

This latest feature reunites the auteur with many frequent collaborators to craft a tender love story in his trademark world of heightened artificiality.

From the meticulously choreographed opening inside a family home set to the bombastic strains of Benjamin Britten, which employs 90 degree spins and smooth tracking shots to reduce the multi-storey property to a doll’s house of activity, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is bewitching.

As in previous films, Anderson alters camera perspective at whim, investing each frame with a sense of childish wonder that fits perfectly with the sweet central romance between two 12-year-olds in the calm before a devastating storm.

“Welcome to New Penzance Island. The year is 1965...” explains a nattily-dressed Narrator (Bob Balaban), who occasionally gate-crashes the narrative.

Resourceful orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) is the least popular member of his Khaki Scout troop, which is run with military precision by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).

He elopes with pen pal Suzy (Kara Hayward), who shares her lighthouse home with parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) and three brothers.

Sam is well-prepared for the expedition with a tent and trust pen-knife but Suzy chooses to pack her hardback books and a battery-powered record player.

The youngsters head for the beach. Meanwhile, Walt and Laura implore local cop Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to find their daughter.

While Walt becomes increasingly unsettled – “Our daughter has been abducted by one of these beige lunatics!” – Ward and his troop join the hunt, determined to find Sam before Social Services (Tilda Swinton) lands on the island to take the boy into care.

‘Moonrise Kingdom’ rests heavily on the shoulders of newcomers Gilman and Hayward.

Anderson’s camera shoots them predominantly in close-up so there is nowhere to hide fake emotion and both young actors are magnificent, capturing the vulnerability, steeliness and sweet affection of their runaways.

A-list co-stars invest their roles with larger than life qualities, including Willis whose perpetual smirk suits his bumbling man of the law.

The script, co-written by Roman Coppola, is peppered with delicious turns of phrase and mordant humour.

The climax might not deliver the emotional wallop we’re anticipating but it does affirm Anderson as a film-maker who refuses to kowtow to expectations.

Star Rating: 4½

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