Isle of Dogs ★★★★½

This movie is spectacular. If I was going to nitpick I suppose I could say that it’s a little over reliant upon narration, as a means to avoid leaning too heavily upon subtitles the movie instead utilizes newly minted double Oscar winner Frances McDormand and the great Courtney B. Vance as interpreters of the films Japanese dialogue. There are thus fairly lengthy stretches where the movie is being driven by words in a fashion more literary than cinematic.

Thankfully said stretches are more often than not accompanied by Wes Anderson’s perfected art of breakneck filmmaking, packing in a lot of information (but never an overwhelming amount, you’re not likely to lack the time to comprehend all that it lays out for you) whether through painterly image, or the most amazingly emotive stop motion faces you’ll have likely seen in a film, or the unloading of plot points via visual means, Isle of Dogs never lets up in its hour and a half run time.

That’s not to say it’s a pure roller coaster ride, Anderson as always is every bit as expert at taking his foot off the gas between his by now iconic stop motion set pieces and slowing the pace right down for a soulful scene that bleeds heart rending pathos. In Isle of Dogs you’ll find both some of the funniest, and saddest scenes of the year, tremendous action, wonderful characters, and a gorgeously cynical damnation of the rotten machinations of the political machine.

It is essentially a perfect movie, even the aforementioned narration is utilized as well as so inherently uncinematic a device could be expected to be on screen, Isle of Dogs is after all a film that aims to play to the young as well as the old, and so that approach helps, the way it works so much magic into the details (the shifty eyes of a computer hacker, the humour injected via on screen captions, the rats and flies and maggots and ticks that add so much character, so much atmosphere to the world in which these animals find themselves) is another of its great strengths, as is its directors by now expected absolute stacking of his movie with major names right down to the smallest roles, and in a movie like this where voices are so important it’s probably put to better use than ever before, F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Keitel, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum, all make tremendous impressions in periphery roles, in even smaller ones Bill Murray, Kara Hayward, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens and Yoko Ono all do the same. In the larger roles it is Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig and the aforementioned McDormand and Vance that shine. The cast are all absolutely pitch perfect, their monologuing, their interplay, there is no runt in this litter.

The music is perfect too, score and soundtrack both (when is that not the case with this mans movies?) the general realization of this immensely detailed world is awe inspiring, and make up half the joy of the experience (there are numerous unforgettable images he conjures up) the way he burrows deep into the souls of his canine characters through the strength of his cast, the usually casually offhand remarks that they make, and the soul he injects into those eyes (and the use of tears!) ensures that this animated movie is as affecting as anything I’ve seen in a long time.

Clever too, so cleverly constructed, and just creatively as innovative as you’d expect from a man now 20 years into his directorial career an absolutely undeniable master. See how much of the Japanese dialogue goes untranslated, wonder how if you don’t speak the language that could be a problem, and behold how such is the strength of the performances of the Japanese voice cast, the emotion in their voices, the writing of the reactions to what they say, and the way in which their characters are brought to life by their director in the delivering of that dialogue, and marvel at how Anderson is able to get across everything that he needs without you comprehending the meaning of each and every word.

I’m rambling now, and such rambling does a total disservice to a film that takes an outrageous plot, and a cacophony of disparate elements that could so easily have resulted in a rambling mess of a movie, and weaves them together in a way that results in a piece of work that almost undoubtedly will be able to go toe to toe with anything you’ll see all year as a comedy, and a drama, as a childrens film and an adults one, as an adventure movie and a political/social satire, and all without ever seeming for a second like it is unsure of itself, of what it wants to be. Isle of Dogs is a movie in which Wes Anderson achieves total clarity of vision, once again utilizing that great knack that he has for wielding nostalgia, for knowing the power of the past. and channelling reminiscence into supremely powerful storytelling. It’s a story at once intrinsically human, and yet able to encompass all that it is (at least as far as humans can perceive) to be a dog in humanities world. Man’s best friend indeed.