- Rated R
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All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
Which brings us to “The Darjeeling Limited,” Anderson’s fifth trip behind the camera, and his second writing collaboration without the help of pal Owen Wilson. Still, while Wilson’s absence spelled trouble for “The Life Aquatic,” it’s hardly noticeable in this outing. What is noticeable is that the Wes Anderson we all know and love is back. And while “The Darjeeling Limited” isn’t perfect, it comes so close to hitting the mark that even when the film begins to fall off the rails, you’ve already made up your mind as to how you feel about it.
One year after the death of their father, the Whitman brothers – Francis (Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) – have all boarded The Darjeeling Limited for a train tour through India. Meant simply as a way for the estranged brothers to reconnect after the tragic event, the spiritual journey takes an unexpected turn when a hilarious combination of painkillers, pepper spray and a poisonous snake result in the trio getting kicked off the train. It's here, stranded in the middle of the desert with a pile of suitcases, a printer and a laminator, where Francis discloses the real reason behind the reunion: to track down their mother (Anjelica Huston) at a Himalayan convent and bring her back home.
Using India as the backdrop for the events that transpire, the country truly is a character itself, but it’s the film’s three stars that make “Darjeeling” such an enjoyable ride. Wilson, Brody and Schwartzman are all on the same page as their ultra-quirky director, and their performances reflect that understanding; especially Brody, who marks his first collaboration with Anderson by delivering a brilliant turn as the drugged-up middle brother. Cameos by Bill Murray and Natalie Portman (whose expanded role in the Wes Anderson short “Hotel Chevalier” needs to be seen in order to understand her appearance here) are both welcome additions to the otherwise small cast, while newcomer Amara Karan operates as a parallel version of Portman’s character in the train portion of the film.
Most closely resembling “The Royal Tenenbaums” in its portrayal of a family in strife (though an argument can be made that all of Anderson’s films are centered around this theme), “The Darjeeling Limited” is incredibly simplistic on the outside, yet far more complex as you begin to peel away the layers. Each brother has his own individual problems that he’s currently dealing with – Francis has a bandaged-up face from self-inflicted wounds, Peter is expecting a child with a wife he’s not sure he loves, and Jack is mourning a break-up with his girlfriend (Portman) – but it’s the emotional baggage of their father’s death (and the funeral their mother missed) that is ultimately the root of their unhappiness.
And how does Anderson convey such a message? With actual baggage, of course – a matching 11-piece animal print set that was passed down from their father, which the brothers are forced to lug around throughout the trip. It’s not until they’re able to physically let go of that baggage (while chasing down a train in the film’s final moments) that the brothers finally achieve the spiritual rebirth they’re seeking. Lucky for us, it doesn’t take quite as long. In fact, it’s not more than 20 minutes into the movie that you’ll soon realize you’re watching one of the year’s best.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Considering that every other Wes Anderson film has received the Criterion treatment, I can’t imagine the same won’t be true of his fifth film, “The Darjeeling Limited.” For the time being, however, fans will have to make do with this incredibly lackluster single-disc release. With no director commentary to be found, the sole extra on the DVD is a 21-minute, behind-the-scenes “walking tour.” Also included is the “Hotel Chevalier” short film starring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman, but since it’s an essential part of the “Darjeeling Limited” experience, Fox was wise not to list it as a special feature. Here’s hoping Fox is just as smart about giving Criterion the opportunity to properly release the film on DVD.