Wes Anderson has long been known to be a sharply stylized director whose past films, including Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, have been either voraciously imitated or vilified. Anderson has always created boldly structured romps into the dynamics of family; this is present in his latest film, The Darjeeling Limited.
Anderson continues to direct with his distinctive (though now almost self-conscious) style, with quirky characters, long and diligently detailed shots, and an ear towards the hidden gems of indie-rock music. What Anderson accomplishes is a personal artistic progression; Limited is his finest visual work to date, using his distinctive eye to frame a dusty and frenetic India with his own personal polish, leading to gratifying and memorable ends.
The Darjeeling Limited follows the journey of three brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) as they try to reconstruct their fraternal bond over a self-styled spiritual journey that runs aground. The film chronicles their voyage from the rails to the sands, as they offend and amour the Indian locals, all the while remaining consumed by their cultural narcissism and self-indulgence. That's not to say the characters are unlikeable though; Anderson has done very well to balance their hubris with their vulnerabilities to each other and to their past. Additionally, Limited captures the landscape, locals, and the eye-catching and fanciful transportation of India, making them more enduring than the three brothers positioned in the beginning as the film's anchors.
The acting is appropriate in Limited, but it's nothing that stretches or emboldens Anderson's work. While Gene Hackman infused his personal agility and presence into The Royal Tenenbaums, Limited doesn't have any truly remarkable performances; holistically approached, the trio of Wilson, Brody and Schwartzman are enjoyable and whimsical, but nothing that really lingers once the credits roll. The acting is as stylized as the direction with the exception, at points, of Brody, who is noticeably trying to make something out of his onscreen time where the script allows.
The lack of standout performances does not decrease the sophistication of the film, however. Anderson infuses a certain charm in his film, along with a visual friendliness that satisfies far beyond the skill of the actors.
Anderson has done this sort of story before. Wealthy siblings coming together and experiencing their common quirks while dealing with a family crisis isn't a new concept thematically (in Tenenbaums it was the impending death of a father, in Limited it's the diluting and fragmentation of their relationship). Anderson, therefore, isn't really treading new ground, but continues to exhibit an aptitude for crafting pop-art from that idea. Limited is a welcome improvement over his past film, The Life Aquatic, which overloaded the screen with visual and written quirk, like a maddening pop-up book that never ran out of pages.
With Limited, Anderson has reclaimed his playful eye and used it to capture the grandeur of India and the beauty in its modern life. Anderson's understanding of a cultural pulse, and his ability to subvert that to his own stylistic goals is a refreshing advancement for him, and with it The Darjeeling Limited becomes a thoroughly enjoyable if not wholly original film.