Monday 5 September 2022

Movie Review: Louder Than Bombs (2015)

A drama about unspoken truths eroding family ties, Louder Than Bombs quietly pokes at the tender scars of tragedy.

Renowned photojournalist Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) covered the world's hotspots for the New York Times. She died in a car crash soon after retiring, leaving behind her husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and two teenage sons Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and the younger Conrad (Devin Druid). Several years later, a gallery retrospective of her photos is being planned, and Isabelle's ex-colleague Richard (David Strathairn) is writing a comprehensive remembrance article, in which he will reveal her death was a suicide.

Jonah is now a college professor married to Amy (Megan Ketch), and they have a newborn child. The troubled and non-communicative Conrad still lives with his dad and is addicted to video games. Jonah visits Gene and Conrad to help sort through Isabelle's belongings, revealing the hidden emotional pain still haunting the family.

An exploration of lies and half-truths that appear convenient but only lead to more difficult junctures, Louder Than Bombs achieves the desired discomfort despite uneven plotting. Director Joachim Trier (who co-wrote the screenplay with Eskil Vogt) creates intrigue by gradually revealing multiple sources of unease gnawing at the Reed family, but the multi-pronged insecurities compete for attention.

The promising material splits into at least three streams, and ultimately meanders into shallowness. Gene is a grieving husband and a failed actor who resented Isabelle's globe-trotting success but also feels responsible for pressuring her into career abandonment. Jonah is a smug new parent, but his young marriage to Amy is already in trouble. Conrad is a moody student at the edge of being labelled a danger to himself and his high school, but is also attracted to classmate Melanie (Ruby Jerins). All three are failing to communicate and hiding their feelings from themselves and each other. As the revelatory article draws near, Conrad makes the most progress, his creativity offering an outlet.

In flashbacks, the fourth and perhaps most compelling character is brought in focus. Isabelle was torn between a career that splashed her photos and name across the world, and a family where she felt like an intruder. Only some of her scars were visible, and she was also hiding her own secrets. Isabelle's story makes Louder Than Bombs a good companion piece to 2013's A Thousand Times Good Night.

The cast members deliver earnest performances consistent with the downbeat mood. But hampered by overlapping layers of pretense, the characters are only allowed to aim for safe landings. Louder Than Bombs settles for exposing rather than elaborating on multiple cracks in a family's foundation.

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