Isle of Dogs – Film Review

Wes Anderson is a weird filmmaker in that his latest film is his best one.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is an accomplished piece of work, and will be still loved fifty years from now.  Before that his films have been too quirky and plastic for their own good (doesn’t mean they’re not brilliant), and so going into Isle of Dogs I didn’t know what to expect.  I saw the film at the Glasgow Film Festival for its UK premiere, and the producer Jeremy Dawson introduced it.  There then followed a little funny video message from Wes Anderson and a few members of the cast.  Without it even starting, it was clear the creation of this film had been a labour of love.

The narrative at its core is very simple.  It’s Japan and dogs are banished for various reasons.  They are ditched on ‘Trash Island’ where they struggle to survive.  One of the dogs left there is owned by Atari, a young boy who decides to travel to the Island to find his lost friend.

This film is beautiful and there is no other way to describe it (but I’ll try to anyway).  The visuals and art direction are utterly sensational, and Anderson has really outdone his perfectionism.  Each gorgeous shot is layered with the right colour balance and framing.  With each moment he and the animators are being aesthetically intuitive.  It’s unbelievable how well crafted the animation works with the designed sets, and the movement of characters and camera flow incredibly smoothly.  Anderson appears to have mastered the stop-motion animation with such detailed beauty.  The grandeur scenes in the Japan city are spectacular, and I would happily put each wide shot on my wall.  We expect this visual flair from Anderson, but there’s something special about this films presentation, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

Like the rest of Anderson’s work this film is very funny.  The humour is dark, but also cute at times with the classic mixture of deadpan dialogue, unreal characters and cinematic comedy.  As I’ve said it’s a visual treat, and no less in the way it makes you laugh through the way it looks.  Oracle the Pug (Tilda Swinton) is a particularly hilarious character, with her design and her visions.  And the rest of the cast bring something to the expertly tuned dialogue.  Bryan Cranston is wonderfully gristly in his dark horse (but dog – Chief) role, Ed Norton is optimistic and adorably naive as the master-loving Rex, and Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray are wry but still hopeful as their sidekicks Boss and Duke.  There’s also a nice outburst of life and emotion injected in a human role from Greta Gerwig as Tracy, as well as a determined turn from young Koyu Rankin as the hero Atari.  I could go on and on about the cast because they are all superb but special mention goes to Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg, who is always her best when we can only hear her voice.

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From my first viewing, I can’t find a scratch or fault with this film.  It is of course about much more than a boy searching for his dog.   However there is a blissful honesty with that central tale, and splendid likeability of the characters motives.  The film has a slight morbidity to it, though I never found it miserable. I loved every second, and I cannot wait to see it when it comes out in full release at the end of March.  It has the same sort of completion and joy that Grand Budapest has, with a sense that Wes Anderson now has a god-like control over his unique style.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes it is worth several of them.

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