Bottle Rocket

Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 32 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A

Everyone has a dream. Dignan's is to be a criminal. A robber. His mind dances with visions of himself pulling off elaborate heists and getting rich. In his boundless enthusiasm, he reminds one of a child. He is excited, doing something he longs and yearns to do. He is never happier than when he is orchestrating a robbery. It makes him giddy, makes him happy.

His friend, Anthony, doesn't really want to be a criminal. You can tell it in his eyes. But he can't bear to break his friend's heart. He can't bear to disappoint him. So he gets himself involved in Dignan's hair-brained schemes. He smiles and plays along and assists in the robberies, even though he wants no part of it and even though he knows that his friend lacks the necessary tools to be a good criminal.

The relationship between Anthony and Dignan, well, it just feels right. It gets all the little details right. It knows how such a relationship works. It knows that sometimes you do things you really don't want to because you love someone, because you like them enough that you don't want to hurt them, even if you realize deep down that you probably should hurt them before they have a chance to hurt themselves. But you can't, because you can't bear to see that crestfallen look cross their face. There is a beautiful moment in "Bottle Rocket" where Anthony is out. He is no longer a part of Dignan's schemes and he is doing well for himself. But Dignan shows up and asks him if he wants to rob a place. Anthony refuses. Then some guys show up and make fun of Dignan's jumpsuit. They break Dignan's heart. Not that he's that fragile but just the state that he is in. And you can see Anthony wanting to help him, wanting to put things right for his friend, and so he gets into it all over again. It's a true moment, a moment that any one of us with a heart and a good friend could see ourselves conceivably getting into, and the whole movie is full of moments like this.

And it's funny too, in its own, wonderfully-understated way. A lot of people mistake "low-key" for boring, but there is no reason that the two have to go together. This movie is light and subtle and it has a deft touch. Upon first viewing, I didn't think a great deal of it myself. I liked it, but I didn't get that thrilled by it. However, the movies of Wes Anderson (he also did "Rushmore") are strange in that way. At first, you like them and that's about it. But then you find yourself drawn into them again and again and again. And every time you watch them, you find fresh layers to them. Both this movie and "Rushmore" have more going on in them than you might think at first, more than meets the eye. The fight between Dignan and a large, black man at a pool hall, for example. It's in the background of another scene, almost a throwaway, but for those who pay close attention it is hilarious. Much of the movie is that way. It invests us in the characters and it does so deeply enough that we grow to love them and we laugh at the same time that we empathize with them and understand them. These characters are wonderful creations and it is a joy to spend time with them.

Do yourself a favor, get to know Dignan and Anthony. And acquaint yourself with Bob Maplethorpe and his brother "Futureman". If they don't move you at first, well, just give them time. Trust me.