Movie Reviews
About Me


Current Reviews
Four-Star Movies

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004): ***½

Directed by Wes Anderson

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
is the damnedest movie. I thought it was incredibly entertaining, but I can't in good conscience give it four stars.

It would seem to have everything going for it, and indeed it almost does. It has a fantastically designed cutaway boat set. It has a cast of hilarously straight-faced actors playing quirky and unique characters. It has stop-motion animation by the guy who made The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. The comedic plot includes such things as a hijacking at sea by pirates, and a bunch of oceanographers and filmmakers staging an armed rescue attempt. It's all really, really hilarous.

But it was kinda doomed from the start. Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), the man around whom the film revolves, is by design an inscrutible character. He seems to be almost sleepwalking through the entire film, which makes the pacing crawl rather than zing by. Even in action scenes he has a very bland expression. I know Wes Andeson's films enough to know that this is on purpose, and it usually wouldn't be a problem—his films are filled with distant and unknowable types of characters, but somehow also full of honest, brutal, and strong underlying emotions (well, except maybe for Bottle Rocket, but that film just had so much energy). But for some reason this films ultimately fails to have any sort of emotional core. The relationship between Zissou and his maybe son (Owen Wilson) sputters around some sort of emotional resonance, but never reaches it, even in scenes that should be very emotional. The characters don't seem really to grow or change all that much. Even at the end of the film, Steve Zissou's final statement falls flat. Does he really believe it? It doesn't really seem like it, but if not, what was the point of it all? Everything seems such a drain on him that it almost becomes a drain on the viewer—my wife for one thought the film dragged and dragged, and because there's no real emotional through-line, it kind of does. It simply doesn't have enough energy to distract you from the fact that it's really hard to care about what happens.

The only exception is the final underwater scene in which the entire cast is gathered around Steve. It hints at deep, deep underlying emotions that could have been throughout the entire movie.

This may seem like a negative reviews, but I don't give three-and-a-half stars to movies I dislike. Taken individually, each scene in this film is a thing of comic, absurd brilliance. The film has the great stylism that is the trademark of Wes Anderson—at times it seems almost to have been made in the 70s (even though it presumably takes place in the present). Hilarious, painstaking details fill the frame to constantly delight and amaze with sheer filmmaking audacity.

It's almost enough. Almost.

[back] [top] [current reviews] [archives]