Wes Anderson's latest cinematic diorama is an enchanting yet edgy romantic adventure between two 12-year-olds seeking to escape a world of maladjusted adults. Visually delightful, frequently funny and consistently touching, Moonrise Kingdom boasts an impressive cast and is spellbinding for every delicately composed frame.
Set in 1965 on an island off the New England coast, Anderson's movie charts the repercussions of a secret pact made between orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) as they run away from their respective guardians for a dangerous life in the wilderness.
The bullying Khaki Scout troop fled by Sam, led by Scout Master Randy (Edward Norton), are hot on his trail and scenting blood, while Suzy's dysfunctional parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are livid. Amidst them all, local sheriff Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) tries to coordinate the search, but ultimately stumbles upon something very spiritually surprising indeed...
The young leads are the movie's heartbeat, with Anderson's lens intimately and affectionately capturing the essence of two lonely children trying to establish meaning within their innocent worlds and domestic disharmony. The naturalistic performances from and Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are mesmerising and form a winning juxtaposition with both the idiosyncratic performances from the older supporting characters and the highly stylised visual canvas.
Wes Anderson's mise-en-scène is effectively a character in itself and responds interestingly to the environment it's capturing. The movie opens inside the Bishop household, with the camera gliding along parallel lines from left to right or up to down - its stilted and forced behaviour replicating the stale atmosphere and mindset of the adults inside the walls.
Similarly, the preciseness of the presentation of the Khaki Scout lodgings exudes a regimented feel in unison with Randy's manner. Contrast that with the close-framing and handheld camerawork in the scenes between Sam and Suzy, with the intimacy and organic nature of the scenario conveyed beautifully.
Several echoes of David Lynch's work help to elevate Moonrise Kingdom's stature too, with the prevalent theme being one of a dark underbelly lurking beneath the colourful surface. This isn't explored in detail though, as the focus is very much on the present predicament of the pre-adolescent lovers.
Indeed, the strongest Lynchian moments are quick and quirky visual moments that provoke instant laughs - such as an unfathomably high treehouse built by the scouts and Captain Sharp's hilariously lopsided quiff that simply must be a homage to Deputy Andy Brennan from Twin Peaks.
Aside from the amusing follicular foibles, Bruce Willis is superb as Sharp and forms a brilliant and understated rapport with the runaway Sam. It's no surprise the likes of Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand excel in familiar 'offbeat' movie territory, but the fragility and earnesty of Willis's performance is proof of his thespian prowess away from all his macho "yippee ki-yay" posturings elsewhere. One simple and largely dialogue-free dinner table scene in Sharp's humble lodgings, where the sheriff makes dinner for Sam and pours him a bit of beer, encapsulates this perfectly.
Bolstered by uniformly smart casting decisions that harness the talents of both established stars and relative newcomers, Wes Anderson's movie is his best since Rushmore and unfolds in an unpredictable and involving way. Expect to hear a great deal more from Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward in the future, who tackle their tricky roles in a candid and magnificent manner. As an adventure full of danger and romance, this is hard to beat.
Photo gallery - Moonrise Kingdom Cannes world premiere: