A Peaceable Kingdom
Wes Anderson Makes a Saving Private Ryan for People Who Hate War Movies
Moonrise Kingdom certainly won't defuse any of the common criticisms against Wes Anderson. If you're looking to build a case against him, you'll find plenty of evidence here. The movie is twee and precious. The design work—from the dollhouse-creepy sets to the unrealistically perfect costumes—do give off an air of inhumanity (although the Hank Williams–heavy soundtrack adds a welcome wounded touch). The characters' emotions all feel couched, safely and wryly, in quotation marks. But it's also probably Anderson's best movie since Rushmore.
Anderson warmly embraces the slightest of plots—in the 1960s, a precocious pair of adolescent lovers go on the run together, whipping their repressed island community into a frenzy—and plunges over the side of a waterfall with it. The young man, an unpopular Khaki Scout named Sam (Jared Gilman), is serious and desperate to be seen as competent. His sweetheart, Suzy (Kara Hayward), is frustratingly not as well sketched out—she has issues with anger, but at times she might as well be a hapless hostage to Sam's narrative urge. Behind these two novice actors, Anderson coaxes an all-star cast into strong, mannered supporting performances: Bruce Willis spoofs his own damaged tough-guy shtick as Captain Sharp, a small-town cop with a secret; Frances McDormand and Bill Murray play Suzy's parents with a poky, amicably antagonistic sizzle; Edward Norton is a sublime pleasure as Sam's good-hearted scoutmaster.
Anderson smartly treats Moonrise Kingdom with the somberness and self- importance of a war movie. With Willis as their hardened, duty-bound general, the young Khaki Scouts take to the search for Sam with a hungry Full Metal Jacket intensity, and Sam is a classic war movie hero in the body of a young teen boy, disillusioned by everything but the love of a good woman. He and Suzy don't hold allegiances to lines on a map, and once the other soldiers start thinking about Sam as a lovesick human being and not a clichéd AWOL shirker, their ardor for violence dissipates. It's Saving Private Ryan for people who can't stand war movies.