Bottle Rocket 1996 ★★★★

Concluding my re-education of Wes Anderson's films, I made the decision to end at his beginning, with my second viewing of his first feature film, Bottle Rocket. Watching this one directly after revisiting his other works helped a lot in seeing just how much of a first step this was towards the filmmaker he would eventually become. Bottle Rocket is very much a "first feature", as it doesn't allow him to do too much and you can tell there are areas where he holds back slightly on his vision in order to make sure he's able to leave it as accessible as possible without compromising himself.

Bottle Rocket and Rushmore were clear stepping stones toward Wes truly becoming the Wes Anderson that we all know by now, and it's interesting to watch him building himself that way; to see him go from a unique take on the conventional routines to someone who truly exists inside his own box. Bottle Rocket is a simple film, focusing on a man named Dignan (Owen Wilson, who co-wrote) who brings his friend Anthony (Luke Wilson), recently released from a mental institution, in on a plan to pull off a heist. It's a simple set-up that's been done plenty of times before, a common trend in first features, but it's done under the unique eye of Anderson that makes it a real treat to watch.

Dignan isn't your typical crime caper hero, he's built straight from the mind of Wes and as such he's not the sharpest guy around. He's not a complete moron to a point where it would be unbelievable that anyone would follow him, but there's definitely something missing in his wide-eyed optimism and can-do spirit. He fits right in with the rest of Anderson's central characters, as Bottle Rocket slowly reveals itself to be a film that's ultimately about redemption more than anything else. Dignan could easily be an unlikeable guy, he's pushy and narcissistic (as all Wes leads are) but there's something about the earnestness of Owen Wilson's performance that makes it impossible to hate the guy. He's not a bad guy, he's just very lost.

He really is a great archetype that establishes all of Wes' lead characters up to this point. Dignan is lost and thinks that he has a plan for where he wants his life to go; a very extensive plan at that. He thinks that with this one big thing, the heist, he can get exactly what he wants and set his life back on track. This is a common theme in Anderson's films, the lead character thinking that one thing can fix it all, and over the course of Bottle Rocket he is faced with the realization that life doesn't work that way. There's never a quick fix for life, and it's more about a gradual understanding of what is truly going to make you happy. The final scene is one of beauty and hope, and there are small moments of this sprinkled throughout the film that are really lovely to experience.

As always, the script is fused with Anderson's trademark wit and the comedic timing of the entire cast, particularly the Wilson brothers, has rarely been better. It's paced in a brisk and efficient manner, with the brothers nailing their deliveries all the way. Anderson's humor has never been about showing the audience when they're supposed to laugh, and that makes it's situations much more comical. The writing is incredibly sharp and he put together a cast who were fully aware of what he was going for here. It's intelligent without ever making you feel alienated by it, and it's loaded with many memorable moments. Bottle Rocket would be a great film in it's own right, but even more so it's an excellent display of the potential that Wes Anderson would further explore as he was allowed to expand himself more.

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