Starring: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, James Caan, Robert Musgrave, Kumar Pallana, Andrew Wilson
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Synopsis: Focusing on a trio of friends and their elaborate plan to pull off a simple robbery and go on the run.
As you may or may not know by now, I’m a pretty big fan of Wes Anderson. I think I had probably seen The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore before I saw Bottle Rocket, and they were enough to make me want to check out his debut feature. Whilst not dripping with Anderson’s usual quirks (that may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what side of the fence you sit) it still holds some of that charm that, in my eye, makes his films so special and certainly so unique.
It is, simply put, a premise that is very common. A bungling group of inept thieves manage to mess up a simple robbery. It has in common hundreds of films from over the years that share this premise, not least another ‘Undiscovered Gem’ from this series, Palookaville. Both of these films came out at a similar sort of time, but that is where the similarity ends. This being a Wes Anderson movie, it has a softness to it at the heart, mixed with some melancholy and some dry but pretty funny humour.
Central to it all is Dignan, played by Owen Wilson in his first film role. He is a dreamer and a live wire. He wants to be a bank robber and he cajoles is pals Anthony (played by Luke Wilson) and Bob (Robert Musgrave) into joining him. His grandiose plans include a trial robbery at a bookstore, before going on the run. They shack up in a motel, Anthony falls in love with Spanish maid Inez and Bob gets cold feet and leaves. Upon regrouping back home, they all hook up with Mr Henry (James Caan, fresh from rehab) and his ragtag group of friends, and plan a proper robbery. It’s probably not a spoiler to say it doesn’t go well.
The reason I think this film works on more levels than your usual crime caper is because the characters are so damned likeable and sympathetic. You just have to be won over by Dignan’s pent up bundle of enthusiasm and energy, and by Anthony’s romantic ideals. You know that they are going to mess up, and you feel bad for them.
I think Anderson’s debut feature deserves a lot more attention than it got upon release, and certainly since. Sure, it didn’t have the same look, feel or budget as he had subsequently, but it still has a lot to offer.