Wes Anderson’s first foray into feature films came with Bottle Rocket. Based on a short film produced by Anderson, he brought fellow University of Texas alumni Owen Wilson and brother Luke on board, and then found partial funding from Texas-based screenwriter L.K. Carson and rolled the momentum on to becoming a success at the Sundance Film Festival.
Rescuing his friend Anthony (Luke Wilson) from a voluntary psychiatric unity, Dignan (Owen Wilson) reveals to him a 75-year plan for the two of them to complete a series of heists. Once completed the plan calls for the two to go and meet Mr. Henry (James Caan) a known criminal friend of Dignan’s and set about becoming the most infamous criminals of all time. After numerous practice heists and a series of overly complicated plans the two friends become embroiled in a plot that escalates out of their control.
Fans of Anderson’s later work will see a lot of his personalized style and the beginnings of his unique approach to dialogue and character development in the low-budget Bottle Rocket. It is tough to imagine just how unusual his whimsical, free-speech tropes must have seemed to an uninitiated audience, although there is more than enough charm and interest to maintain a level of interest. Sadly it seems that hampered with a tiny budget and a cast of then-unknown actors, Anderson had to make do with the best he could achieve with all these restraints.
The Wilson brothers are on fine, naÃ¯ve form, jumping from each crime caper to the next, desperately trying to convince themselves and everyone around them that they can become career criminals. Their easy chemistry is fun to witness and it’s very easy why Hollywood became so accepting of them both as future stars. Anderson is clearly comfortable filming his characters, who seem more like old friends than narrative-driving archetypes, and as his debut he was clearly trying to create a film well within his own comfort zone, which is fine.
Unfortunately Bottle Rocket is far too self-indulgent to be taken too seriously as a long-lasting modern classic. There is no overwhelming narrative drive, and as likeable as the characters may be, they lack enough of the quirky nature of later classics like Max Fischer or the whole of the Tennenbaum family. This is the start of a career in film-making that is decisively and distinctly Anderson’s, which has rarely been imitated or copied and while his more recognisable style is in its infancy, there is enough charm, wit and invention to make Bottle Rocket a solid, if unspectacular start.