“Louder than Bombs” is the English language debut of Norwegian director Joachim Trier and his writing partner Eskil Vogt, best known for their 2006 Academy Award-nominated foreign language film “Reprise.” Their newest work was a competitor for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Norway’s first since 1979. Possessing a compelling rotation of inner monologues, the heavily dramatic film observes a fractured family of men dealing with the overhanging aftermath of losing their iconic matriarch.
Isabelle Reed (French favorite Isabelle Huppert) was a renowned combat photojournalist whose work was celebrated around the world. Two years ago, after retiring from her dangerous field, Isabelle was killed in nighttime car accident where suicide was the likely cause. Such a development casts an uneasy spectral air over her legacy among her journalist colleagues, including David Strathairn’s Richard of The New York Times, but not more so than on her surviving family.
Her oldest son Jonah, played by Jesse Eisenberg, looks to be in a great place with his life. Happily married and a new first-time father, Jonah weathered the tragedy and improved. The same cannot be said for his younger brother Conrad (newcomer Devin Druid). He was only 12 when his mother died and the fact of her death being ruled a suicide was kept from him by his father Gene (Gabriel Byrne), a teacher at Conrad’s school.
Gene watches over his high school son when he thinks Conrad is not looking and secretly dates his English teacher (Amy Ryan). Outwardly to Gene and others, Conrad is a troubled mess, the kind of distant confused teenager who hides in video games and his ever-present headphones. When the film switches to his point of view and examines him closer, his train of thought reveals his weird, misunderstood, and soulful inner thoughts and desires.
Losing his mother clearly created Conrad’s dichotomy of fountains and fractures and Gene has not handled them effectively as a parent. The emerging revelations of personal reflection shown within each of the Reed men shed light on their varying memories and connections to Isabelle. These meditations also follow each man’s questionable choices, mistakes, and secrets in living their lives without her.
Juggling his troubles with those of his sons, this is the best Gabriel Bryne has been in ages. He deserves meaty and mature roles like this more often. Jesse Eisenberg slows his signature manic tendencies down to show excellent introspection. The most startling key performance belongs to Devin Druid, in his first adult feature role, grabbing our focus as the character that needs the most delicate saving. Lastly, the collected tangents of “Louder than Bombs” enable a strengthening and angelic performance from Isabelle Huppert to come through in different interpretations, all of which resonate in different ways.
The collected well-written and artfully crafted episodes and encounters of “Louder than Bombs” are strikingly rendered by Trier’s direction and Vogt’s script. Nothing is formulaic or cloying. The tortured performances of Byrne, Eisenberg, and Druid squeeze painful, yet palpable emotions as these three look for their own answers to dealing with tragedy. “Louder Than Bombs” is fearless to observe dark reactions and wavering morality with a bold intimacy that continues to its final images.
Lesson #1: How people act when they are being watched versus when they know they are— There is a fascinating and thick voyeuristic layer to “Louder than Bombs.” The camera is a placeholder for peoples’ observations of situations, some of which conceal true intentions while other expose truths.
Lesson #2: A parent trying to maintain touch with their child’s happiness— When happiness is lost, for whatever reason, parenting and the communication necessary can become very difficult between parent and child. If severe enough, that difficulty can close people off to future happiness or force them to overcompensate with other emotions and choices.
Lesson #3: Irrational mistakes forced by grief— Anguish and sadness can sink people low enough to make harsh mistakes and those they are incapable of learning from. Losing a wife and a mother cut each of the Reed men differently, depending on their age, ambition, or knowledge of the real Isabelle. Many mistakes are made and faced in the film.