There are many filmmakers who have their own distinct styles, but over the past 20 years, no director has been more inimitable than Wes Anderson. His use of a very particular cinematography, staging and color make each of his films immediately recognizable, and this is before approaching his dialogue, which has a precise rhythm that makes each character seem related, no matter how different they are.
This movie-to-movie similarity can be boring, but he has a way to refresh the style with his stories that keep his fans coming back time and time again. This ability is again exposed in The French dispatch, an anthology-style film that functions as a sort of visual version of the titular magazine, which itself is an international outpost of fiction Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun newspaper.
Anderson uses the film as a love letter to reporters and journalism, but seen through its unique lens. Editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) leads an eclectic staff through the assembly of an issue, including art writer JKL Berensen (Tilda Swinton), town man Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), criminal journalist Roebuck Wright (Geoffrey Wright), and more.
None of the three main stories they tell are straightforward, which is especially good for the film. He is an imprisoned artist (Benicio Del Toro) whose guardian (Léa Seydoux) serves as his muse, and art enthusiasts who love his work; a political agitator (Timothée Chalamet) covered perhaps a little too closely by a Mail journalist (Frances McDormand); and Roebuck Wright recounting he infiltrated a criminal gang to a talk show host (Liev Schreiber).
As is customary with Anderson films, the stories are populated by all kinds of famous actors in small roles including Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Bob Balaban, Henry Winkler, Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Elisabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzmann, among others. Everyone involved seems more than happy to play Anderson’s sandbox no matter how long or long they are there.
Anderson’s trademark fantasy carries the film throughout, even when a few segments lag behind. You might think you know where a story goes, but then he adds a few wacky details that no other filmmaker would even think to include. This stuff almost always works in his favor because he has long established his eccentric good faith. That said, this is not an entry-level Anderson movie; anyone coming to see it for the first time may wonder why other moviegoers appreciate it so much.
More than most of his films, there is no star whose performance the story is based on. Murray plays the head of the newspaper, but like any other actor, he only appears at certain times. Those who make the most of their brief appearances are Swinton, Del Toro, Seydoux, and McDormand, though every member of the ensemble elevates the film in one way or another.
The French dispatch may not be considered a classic in Anderson’s filmography, but it’s a welcome return to live-action cinema for the director (his last non-animated film was from 2014 The Grand Hotel Budapest). No one tells a story exactly like him, and his presence among all the blockbusters is always welcome.
The French dispatch opens in theaters October 29.