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Review: Louder Than Bombs

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LouderThanBombs

The title doesn’t do justice to Louder Than Bombs, potentially misleading audiences while not focusing on the real heart of this movie. In the wake of political troubles Europe-wide I was tentative to see it, having had my fill of blood and dust-stained commuters. But really, Joachim Trier’s film concerns itself with a more common enemy – the war within – and the struggle to maintain a family in light of tragedy.

Flipping forward and back in time, war photographer and mother of two boys Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) relentlessly pursues her career. It takes its toll on every aspect of her life; when she’s in a war-torn region she wants to be home, when home she sees how the lives of her husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and children Jonah and Conrad (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid) have progressed without her. Never truly present anywhere, she takes her own life.

We’re introduced to the male leads a few years after this harrowing event. The men are all grieving…privately. A soon-to-be-published New York Times retrospective of Isabelle’s photography forces the family together, Gene struggling with the knowledge that he must reveal to Conrad how his mother really died. The film follows the family as the fallout from Isabelle’s death shapes their own futures.

If it sounds sad, then it is, and the ramifications of a parent’s death too soon are dealt with sensitively. However, Trier also spends time on the happy minutiae, like school parties, births and the excitement of first love. Perhaps if the absent parent were a father Louder Than Bombs wouldn’t be as interesting. Instead, the role-reversal breathes life into the melodrama.

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Trier brings out the best in all of his actors, and Druid is particularly good as a withdrawn teen, drawing parallels from films like Elephant and We Need To talk About Kevin without straying into dangerous over-dramatics. The depiction of American High School seems more realistic than most.

It was enjoyable to see on screen a woman dealing with the stresses of a demanding career and family commitments – Huppert keeps Isabelle very present and her absence keenly felt. And Eisenberg enjoys jumping from blockbuster to this kind of fare. He’s very good in this role, with Jonah’s moral compass set anywhere but Due North in the film’s opening scene.

A real surprise was the quality of the cinematography. It far exceeds what a viewer would expect from an Indie talkie. CGI is used to stunning effect in a few set-pieces, notably a bullet-time car crash. In the same way that superhero movies always benefit from better characterisation, Louder Than Bombs is a better movie because time and money have been spent on action sequences.

Louder Than Bombs is a family melodrama with an edge, packing just enough in to satisfy many character arcs. It isn’t loud at all, instead quietly illustrating the destruction and remaking of a modern family unit. Moving, occasionally amusing and just a little bit unsettling, it has stayed with me.

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