What a week for Gabriel Byrne! To start things off, his new play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, began previews on Broadway on Sunday. And now tomorrow, Friday, Louder Than Bombs, his latest film, opens in theaters in the United States. Reviews for the film are available already, with many more to come, no doubt. Enjoy this initial round-up of reviews and interviews and be sure to come back soon for more! To begin, the trailers and posters for both the US and UK releases:
UK Trailer (film opens April 22)
A fractured film about a fractured family, Louder Than Bombs takes a potentially tired premise and reshapes it before our eyes. It opens on a newborn’s tiny hand helplessly clinging to a father’s finger and ends with a different father watching his two sons sleep. In between is a story of parents and children in which we’re pulled by the currents and countercurrents of desperation, depression, and love. The tale isn’t new, nor are the characters, but director Joachim Trier’s stylistic and narrative dexterity demands attention: He possesses that rare ability to deconstruct his material without denying us the simple beauties of a well-told story…
There’s a funny Vertigo reference when Conrad, toying with his snooping father, collapses before a grave marked “Carlos Valdez” — a nod to the Hitchcock film’s mysterious, long-dead Carlotta Valdez. It seems like a throwaway gag until you realize that Louder Than Bombs, like Vertigo, is also ultimately about obsession and grief, about how, in the wake of trauma, people lose themselves in whirlpools of regret. Again, that’s nothing new, but in finding a narrative and visual style that embodies that obsessiveness, that lost-ness, Trier puts us inside his characters’ heads. What’s more, he does so without it ever feeling forced, or like some kind of authorial dictum. For all the film’s seemingly unusual narrative choices, you emerge from it thinking this story couldn’t properly be told any other way.
Toward the end of Joachim Trier’s “Louder Than Bombs,” a family drama of extraordinary beauty, a teenager confronts his father, who has been shielding him from a painful truth. “Am I really that difficult to talk to?”
The question would be funny if it weren’t so poignant. He’s been impossible to talk to, all but unapproachable in his grief and isolation since the death of his famous and formidable mother. Yet open communication doesn’t come any more easily to the boy’s father, or to his older brother. In a family that has fallen into misfunction, if not quite dysfunction, all three of them recycle their remembrances obsessively—this is very much a movie about memory—and guard their secrets tenaciously. (The superb cast includes Devin Druid as young Conrad; Jesse Eisenberg as his brother, Jonah; Gabriel Byrne as their father, Gene; Amy Ryan as Hannah, Conrad’s teacher; and, powerful in flashbacks though seldom on screen, Isabelle Huppert as the French-born mother, Isabelle, a combat photographer who died not in a war zone but in a car crash a few blocks from home.)
The film poses questions: What is our responsibility to telling their story? Can we tell it the way they might have and not appropriate it for ourselves? As we look at Isabelle’s famous photo of a group of men mourning over the dead body of a young boy, we also see that her husband and sons seem immobilized by their grief.
We come to care about these survivors, in part because monologues and voiceovers connect us with their interior lives. Gabriel Byrne gives a moving, understated performance as Isabelle’s husband Gene, trying to protect and communicate with his youngest son Conrad (Devin Druid) while engaging in a clandestine relationship with the boy’s teacher (Amy Ryan). Troubled by memories that foreground his ineffectuality and unfocused guilt, Gene also represses what he knows.
Just about every performance here is understated, with Byrne—an actor probably best known for playing cold Irish gangsters—conveying more vulnerability than he maybe ever has, while Druid proves that the naturalism he exhibited as a young Louis CK was no fluke. Though it certainly demonstrates how much U.S. cinema benefits from a European sensibility, Louder Than Bombs is a remarkably confident American debut for Trier, whose work with the actors never betrays a language barrier, to say nothing of how precisely he captures his upper-crust East Coast milieu…
Appropriately, for a film about something as gradual as grief management, Louder Than Bombs doesn’t attempt to reach some big, dramatic resolution. There’s no shouting-match confrontation, no cathartic scene of these three men finally and fully working through the damage loss has done to their family. The fireworks here are all of the formal variety, Trier using his deep bag of tricks to express the mess of feelings his characters can’t quite communicate. This is a movie of significant moments, nearly all about connection: two teenagers of different social strata sharing a lovely, fleeting communion as night bleeds back into day; two men—rivals in romance—discussing the woman they both loved, as well as either of them could; and two brothers marveling over how young their father once was, as Trier—in a trick borrowed from Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey—uses footage from Hello Again to conflate the past of a character and the actor playing him. It’s a film as complicated as the fictional lives it depicts, big insights echoing like the distant roar of explosion.
Trier catches us in his carefully plotted net and lets us feel the confused emotions of people living good but ultimately unsatisfying lives, struggling with the realization that it is what it is and not more. This is a film that charts a whole new course, a singular one, with people trying to figure out how to live life after it is no longer possible to just let life play itself. An extra marital affair or a computer game are the devices that provide semblance of a pulsing life, in the same way that any activity outside of daily routine provides anyone living today with a sense of accomplishment. Trier beautifully captures the moment in time of the still comfortable middle class, and displays a great understanding of the human soul – at least the woefully self-centered and self-examining, quietly and politely dissatisfied one that inhabits the body of a Western man and woman.
Finally and at last! Here is a brief cut from the Times Talks interview at Cannes, featuring Gabriel Byrne, Joachim Trier, and Devin Druid!
About his role as Gene Reed in Louder Than Bombs:
GB: I don’t know if a movie about grief and the affect of the death of a mother would get into a mainstream cinema. People have this idea that you go to the cinema to be entertained, so let’s not have anything that’s too depressing. But the truth is, we all live with that theme and we all live with life, death, and grief. I’m not being esoteric here, but I think that movies should provoke you.
AVC: And this film strikes a chord?
GB: Of course. If you’ve ever lost anybody that you’re close to, and you’ve observed the effects of death on the family. It rang bells for me as a father. There are situations in this film that most people can recognize. If you’re a teenager and your father or mother calls, it will immediately go to voicemail. Because I don’t want them to know where I am and I don’t want them to know what I’m doing. It’s not such a war against the parents as it is a desire for the adolescent to become their own person. To say, “Look, I have my own life. You can’t tell me what I can and can’t do.” As a kid, you’re beginning to develop a sense of your own self. The idea that you have to lie in order to protect that developing sense of self.
AVC: Do you remember when you felt like you came into yourself?
GB: I think that’s an ongoing process. I think that life is like a series of curtains and you open a curtain and then there’s another curtain. And your life just reveals more and more of yourself to yourself, without ever getting to a place where you think, “I completely know who I am now.” Because you never really do. Most of the time we’re not really tested. There’s this great movie with Dustin Hoffman about a plane that crashes [Hero], and he’s the guy who goes back in to rescue the people. Or he’s the guy that runs away. I can’t remember.
AVC: And so which guy are you?
GB: I know what I’d like to be. Whether I’d be that or not, I don’t know.
There seems to be a lot of dramatic potential in portraying messed up families.
I know this seems like a ludicrous comparison, but one of the shows I used to watch growing up in Ireland was “The Brady Bunch.” It produced a kind of incomprehensible envy in me. Those people had orange juice for breakfast and a father bounding down the stairs to give a kiss to the mother and the kids are all sitting around talking to each other so open and honestly. Then you think of something like “Long Day’s Journey,” which examines the reality of the complexity of family ties and neuroses and resentments and hatred and love. Or “Louder Than Bombs,” which is trying to look at the effect of grief on a family and what does it mean to be a father or a working mother? And how children pull away from their parents to develop their own identities. It’s the opposite of that warm fantasy of a family, that family I wanted to be in. O’Neill’s particular genius was this play, which is intensely autobiographical, is paradoxically universal. People will say, I know that situation. In “Louder Than Bombs,” we all know those moments of adolescence. We know about grief.
What appealed to you about the role in “Louder Than Bombs”?
We’re brought up to believe the heroes in our society are movie stars and basketball players when real heroes are people who go on from day to day. That’s heroism. Here’s a man trying to bring up two kids, both of whom are deceptive in their own way. The drama asks questions about not just grief but about life and death. And when you think about it, there’s only two things that matter. Life and death.
INTERVIEWER: You’re the Aaron Sorkin of Oslo. What you say about Isabelle and Jesse makes me want to ask about one specific scene. The photographer played by Isabelle is discussing a dream she had with her husband, played by Gabriel Byrne. And there’s this close-up where he’s talking and she just … drifts away. It’s an incredible moment. How did you direct that?
TRIER: Isabelle is talking about a dream of a sexual experience in a war zone. She dreams that she was raped, but in her dream her husband was watching and smoking a cigarette. And Gabriel Byrne asks, What is this really about? What are you really trying to tell me? And they have this slight argument, and as always there’s a certain sexual tension, and Gabriel’s playing it a little bit funny and annoyed, and she’s playing it as if she’s teasing him. And it works.
We do one more shot at the end—the shot you’re talking about. Isabelle says, Let me try something. And suddenly she lets this very deep melancholia swell. Meanwhile, Gabriel goes off on a comedic bit. He asks her, How did I smoke? And he does, like, five different ways of smoking. And you see the discrepancy of communication. They both ad libbed. She started crying, almost, but held back. And he starts doing his joke. You see a couple struggling and failing to meet each other, to connect. That’s what I call a jazz take, where I ask the actors to improvise. But the theme, the subtext of that scene is already at play in the writing. As long as you’re thematically primed, as we were, because we did rehearsals—we met, we talked—then you can let go, and you will still come back to something that could be of relevance.
Director Joachim Trier
Awards Daily: This was the first time you’ve worked with American actors. How was that for you?
Joachim Trier: I actually went to film school in London, the National Film and TV School.
AD: No way.
JT: Yes, it’s true, in Beaconsfield. I lived in England for a while, so I had the experience of working with a lot of English speaking actors before this. But, this is my first time making a feature film in the English language in America.
I’d done some films in Norway before — Reprise. Part of the motivation of doing this was to work with these kind of actors. The thing about it, was we set the film up in a way that it wasn’t going to be dependent on having the most famous actors in the world, but people that were prominent, but were also good actors.
I’ve been a fan of Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert and Jesse Eisenberg for ages, so I’m very happy that they came to the project and wanted to collaborate on it. They’re a very smart bunch of actors. I wanted to have newcomers like Devin Druid.
So, really this whole idea of doing an ensemble film in English appealed to me. When I was younger, I watched The Breakfast Club and The Big Chill where many characters mattered, and I found that such an interesting premise.
More reviews are on the way, so stay tuned! heart