It’s hard to mistake Wes Anderson’s work for anyone else’s. His characters move and talk with a choreographed sense of purpose, against such an array of brightly coloured sets that you would be forgiven for thinking you weren’t watching a film but an immense stage play. Some viewers find this style endearing, others find it irritating.
Moonrise Kingdom is most definitely a Wes Anderson film, and is therefore unlikely to win over those who have already made up their mind. It is, however, one of his better movies; displaying just enough of his hallmarks for it to be recognisably his but not so much that it’s annoying.
It’s 1965 on an island off the fictional New England town of New Penzance. Two twelve year olds, the orphaned Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and the troubled Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward, who resembles a young Gwyneth Paltrow in Anderson’s other film The Royal Tenenbaums) run away into the wilderness together.
It’s up to a collection of adults consisting of local cop Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Scoutmaster Randy Ward (Edward Norton), Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances Mcdormand) and the rest of Scout Troop 55 of the Khaki Scouts of North America to find the couple. Tilda Swinton stars as an extravagantly dressed Social Services, whilst regular Anderson collaborator Jason Schwartzman plays the scout Cousin Ben.
Whilst all of the cast are excellent, there are two actors who would one would think wouldn’t go anywhere near a film of this type: Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. Surprisingly, both actors fit well into the roles they are given. Willis especially, given his history of gung-ho action movies, is compelling as the depressed, less than smart and over his head Captain Sharp.
As in many of Anderson’s other movies, the setting is just as much a character as the actors. The scout camps, dense forests and sun-drenched beaches of New Penzance Island provide a perfect detachment from reality for the kids to live out the dream of every twelve year old, and one of the major themes of Moonrise Kingdom: to act and be treated as adults. It’s a theme that brings with it many of the film’s most humorous and heartfelt moments.
With its precise nature, Moonrise Kingdom is a well maintained timepiece of a film. But underneath that precision, as with many pieces of great craftsmanship, there is an obvious emotional heart. Whilst it contains many of the qualities that made Anderson’s previous work so polarising in the past it is certainly one of his better efforts, providing not just a visually pleasing spectacle but also a real human story.