An upcoming exhibition celebrating photographer Isabelle Reed three years after her untimely death, brings her eldest son Jonah back to the family house - forcing him to spend more time with his father Gene and withdrawn younger brother Conrad than he has in years. With the three of them under the same roof, Gene tries desperately to connect with his two sons, but they struggle to reconcile their feelings about the woman they remember so differently.
Surreal, intimate 'Louder Than Bombs' boils with intensity
Director Joachim Trier makes his English-language debut with the drama Louder Than Bombs, an intimate portrayal of one family's relationship and the struggles they must overcome in the face of death. The film made its debut at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and, coupled with Trier's reputation as an acclaimed filmmaker and visionary, is sure to make waves in the indie/art house film scene.
Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) a famed photographer who felt most comfortable in war and conflict-ridden areas, was the center of her husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and two sons', Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and teenager Conrad (Devin Druid), world. No one could have predicted that she would leave behind a familial conflict of her own doing after her untimely and suspicious death. Three years after the accident, Isabelle's works are being thrust into the spotlight when a museum in New York City asks to use her photographs for a retrospective gallery installation. Her husband accepts, as he is slowly moving on with his life and sees this as a great opportunity to honor her. However, he discovers that an accompanying New York Times article speculating Isabelle's actual cause of death is set to run simultaneously with the gallery opening, and threatens to expose the devastating truth that Gene was intent on hiding from his youngest son in order to protect him. He has no choice but to enlist his oldest son Jonah to help him get through another painful confrontation.
Louder Than Bombs is an unwavering, head-on look at the human desire for connection and the need to be understood. It's obvious in Conrad's behavior by acting out and alienating himself from his father's attempt to reconnect, as well as in his brother Jonah's promiscuity, even when he has a wife and newborn baby at home. Gene's attempt to bond with his two sons is affected by his own flaws. This humanistic condition for connection is at the forefront of the film and engages the audience into contemplating how and why we act the way we do, focusing on the relationships within our own family.
What sets Louder Than Bombs apart from other films of recent memory are the surreal moments Trier infuses within the story. Disregarding the traditional method of linear storytelling by shifting between the past and the present, these added moments put visuals to feelings that have a hard time being expressed otherwise. They are not the character's dreams, rather, they are daydreams- or what one wonders about without limitations. These moments are hauntingly beautiful and stand out as works of art on their own.
On the acting front, the assembled cast could not have been better. Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic in the role of Jonah, his trademark quick-witted clamor is controlled and even understated, serving as the voice of reason in the film. Gabriel Byrne plays the widowed Gene with sensitivity as a conflicted father trying to navigate his own direction in life, who is not without his own flaws. Devin Druid embodies the angsty, brooding teenager Conrad to such a believable degree while still holding onto the innocence of being a misunderstood child. These, plus the stellar performances from Isabella Huppert, David Strathairn, and Amy Ryan, truly give the film it's footing.
The title- Louder Than Bombs– suggests an epic, grandiose drama, but instead, what Trier creates is a meditative and restrained film that is not at all loud or brash. It is a psychological trip that leads back to the celebration of one's own uniqueness coming together to fulfill the family dynamic. There is no doubt that Joachim Trier took a risk with Louder Than Bombs, but I believe his creative vision has the potential to pay off tenfold.
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