Moonrise Kingdom highlights everything that is best about Wes Anderson’s filmmaking. The seventh film from this director, who is known for such careful attention to detail, excels at storytelling, harnessing both style and substance. Set on a fictional island off New England in 1965, the film tells the story of two 12-year-old outsiders, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) who run away together. A rag-tag collection of adults and children join the search to find the pair, as a large storm approaches the island. This is a story about coming-of-age romance, that although stars children is made for adults.
The first thing that stands out about this film is its ensemble cast. Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) and Frances McDormand (Fargo) play Suzy’s parents, Bruce Willis (Sin City) leads the search party as Police Captain Sharp, Edward Norton (Fight Club) features as Scout Master Ward, who heads the Khaki scout troop that Sam runs away from, Moonrise Kingdom also stars; Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), Bob Balaban (Best in Show) and Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction). Amongst distinguished company, Willis and Norton shine, playing completely against type. Willis, who we usually see on screen as supremely confident and adept cop characters, as Sharp he is a lonely, sad-sack policeman for whom life seems to have past by. Similarly we are used to seeing Norton play characters with edge, complicated individuals who often exude some sense of menace, but as the Scout Master he delivers a character who is sweet and kind. Compared to their accomplished cast-mates, newcomers Hayward and Gilman bring a perfect sense of awkwardness needed for this tween romance. They are able to capture the slightly skewed idea of sophistication that Anderson often places on his protagonists.
Moonrise Kingdom is a beautifully crafted film. Embracing the 60s aesthetics, the costume design is a thing of joy to behold. The multiple Khaki scout uniforms and tents made specifically for the production highlight the care that has gone into every aspect of the film. Anderson’s attention to props, making them too things of beauty, is perhaps best illustrated by the young adult sci-fi and adventure books Suzy fills her suitcase with. Anderson commissioned artists to design the covers for these books, and wrote excerpts himself for each title.
Anderson is a director known for collaborating with the same people. The frequency that Murray, Schwartzman and, missing here, Owen Wilson are seen in Anderson films suggests a camaraderie that exists outside their work. Moonrise Kingdom‘s co-writer, Roman Coppola also co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited with Anderson. This is a director who keeps a good team of people around him. The cinematographer, Robert Yeoman has been his DoP for six of his film: music supervisor, Randall Poster has also worked on six of Anderson’s seven films. In fact Randall Poster is the final piece of the puzzle as to what makes this film great- its soundtrack.
Moonrise Kingdom begins with Benjamin Britten‘s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Britten’s work goes on to appear frequently during the film with Noye’s Fludde also playing a prominent role. Britten’s grand work is used incredibly effectively during the film to highlight themes, but it is never asked to lazily stand in for emotions. The inclusion of Hank Williams on the soundtrack is also a piece of genius, with Willis’ Captain Sharp accompanied by the lonesome ballads of the country singer.
Showing what can happen when you combine good storytelling with an excellent cast and exceptional design craft, Moonrise Kingdom stands out in Anderson’s cannon of work. A pure joy to watch on the big screen, Anderson take his audience on one of the most delightful cinematic adventures so far for 2012.
Moonrise Kingdom was released in Australia on August 31st
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray,
Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, Jason Swartzman, Harvey Keitel