Focusing on a trio of friends and their elaborate plan to pull off a simple robbery and go on the run.
RottenTomatoes [80% | 56%]
Bottle Rocket has a lot of cool history behind it, so before getting into the actual film, I’ll write a little about that.
At the University of Texas in the late eighties and early nineties, a philosophy major and aspiring film-maker named Wes Anderson [Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Royal Tenenbaums] enrolled in a play writing class. In this class, he met a classmate named Owen Wilson [Midnight in Paris, Wedding Crashers]. These two became friends and roommates, and started writing their own short film called Bottle Rocket. With no acting experience, Owen and his brother Luke Wilson [Old School, Idiocracy] filled the roles in the short film. After a good reception at festivals, Anderson and Wilson were introduced to James Brooks, who helped them get financial backing to make a feature length version of the film. Brooks insisted that major work be done on the script so he had Anderson and Owen Wilson flown to Los Angeles and set up in an office on $100 a day. Wilson tried to exchange his plane ticket for a bus ticket, hoping to pocket the cash instead. Brooks was nervous about the way Anderson and Wilson handled the rewrite process as they never took any notes during meetings. Even with financial backing, they couldn’t get the big name actors that they initially wanted, so Owen and Luke both took part in the first feature length films of their career. After the movie bombed at the box office, Owen seriously considered joining the Marines, convinced that acting held no future for him.
It really was a joy for me to initially read all about Anderson and the Wilson’s and how they all started their career together. Owen and Wes went on to co-write Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, and then Owen’s acting career is probably the reason why he didn’t write with Anderson anymore, as after The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001, his roles became hugely popular.
In Bottle Rocket, Luke Wilson plays Anthony, who is leaving a voluntary mental hospital after a mental breakdown. His close friend Dignan [Owen Wilson], is there to break him out, and continues to inform Anthony of their plans to perform heists and robberies and how to live for the next 25 years, including a big hit with Dignan’s former boss Mr. Henry, played by James Caan [The Godfather, Elf]. The two rob a library with the help of their friend Bob, played by Robert Musgrave, and hit the road. When they stop to stay at a motel, Anthony meets and falls in love with a maid named Inez [Lumi Cavazos]. When they finally hook up with Mr. Henry, the ensuing escapade turns out to be far from what anyone expected.
It is in Bottle Rocket that you can see from the start some of Anderson’s trademark directing qualities and actions: the slow motion ending shot, The Rolling Stones songs, and things like panning, hand-held, underwater, and stationary shots with characters moving in and out of them. He uses all of these in all of his films, never straying from what he knows, despite this first film doing terribly at the box office. Anderson also worked with cinematographer Robert Yeoman and compost Mark Mothersbaugh in Bottle Rocket, who have worked with him on nearly every other project he has done.
As cool as it is to see the starting points of Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and Luke Wilson, all with personalities that they would never stray from and eventually become world famous for, Bottle Rocket is definitely a little messy. The actual plot is something of a sub-plot in the actual scope of the film, and you’re not really left with much in the end.
2/4 – Bottle Rocket is a good starting point for three major Hollywood careers, and a fun project made by three young friends after college. However the little fun moments don’t add up to that good of a film.