Louder Than Bombs Movie Review
AMERICAN BEAUTY, ORDINARY PEOPLE, SQUID AND THE WHALE, and THE ICE STORM are all great films involving family drama. Admittedly, this is a genre that I tend to skew towards in preference and give great admiration if done properly. LOUDER THAN BOMBS doesn’t do anything spectacular to stand with those great films, but it is sufficient in making us care for the characters who matter the most within the family dynamics, even if it does occasionally stray from its focus.
A father and two sons come together under one roof as they try to process the loss of their wife and mother (Isabelle Huppert), a famous war photographer who displayed signs of depression. She died three years ago in a car accident. The boys are going through a room full of her old photographs that have yet to be developed or downloaded before turning them over to a writer who wants to publish a story about her. Gene (Gabriel Byrne), a father and school teacher, is having difficulty explaining to his youngest son that his mother may have intentionally caused the car accident that killed her. The oldest son, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), has a wife and new son, both of whom he seems to be avoiding and wishes to keep his mother’s possible suicide a secret from his brother and the rest of the world. Conrad (Devin Druid) is a troubled teenager who prefers to lock himself in his room, playing video games and avoiding his father.
The three males could use a healthy dose of communication and honesty between one another, but then we wouldn’t have much of a family drama. The film opens with Jonah witnessing the birth of his new son, which almost leads me to believe, with Eisenberg’s more recent star power, that his character might be the lead. But the film ultimately belongs to Conrad. Don’t get me wrong it is mostly an ensemble piece with good performances from all, but the character the audience is drawn to is Conrad. As the lone child in the story (yes, for these purposes a teenager is still a child), he is the innocent one in the mess. Devin Druid does an excellent job portraying a normal, “strange” teen. As it is with most teens, getting to know Conrad is more complex than their surfaced attitude. I found myself wanting to spend more time with Conrad and his relationship with the other characters.
Director Joachim Trier’s care for his characters is apparent but the organization comes across a bit messy. The flashbacks involving the mother are particularly distracting and for the most part unnecessary. The discussion of her by the other characters would be enough to teach the audience about her through a slower reveal process. The complication of her character’s depression in relation to her work and family is far more compelling when kept in deeper mystery. The flashbacks slow the film down and actually make her less sympathetic, all of which loses focus on our main protagonists.
Speaking more of the internal noise within the characters, LOUDER THAN BOMBS (also the title of a famous 1987 rock album from The Smiths) is an ironically quiet portrait of a family. Like many families, personalities can be conflicting as we all process things differently. Not all the characters are likable and perhaps at times downright despicable, but they feel authentic and want to be better at who they are. If you like intimate, reflective struggles in family dramas then LOUDER THAN BOMBS is worth seeing. It’s not the best of its genre but does have some nice moments.