Plot: Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a world renowned oceanographer who travels with his own documentary crew, to craft films about his incredible adventures that he hosts and narrates. On his last expedition however, a tragic turn of events left his friend Esteban eaten by a rare shark. Zissou is driven to return to the water and hunt down the shark, to settle the score. Just before he sets sail, he encounters Ned (Owen Wilson), a young man who claims to be his son and Zissou not only accepts this news, but invites Ned to join the crew. Another late addition is Jane (Cate Blanchett), a reporter who wants to write an article on Zissou and his adventures. But with internal strife, financial woes, and a rival hot on his heels, can Zissou find the shark and gain his revenge, or will his entire expedition by derailed by all the dysfunction?
Entertainment Value: The Life Aquatic was Wes Anderson’s fourth movie and even in his quirky resume, this film stands out as one of his more offbeat and awkward entries, no small claim. Billy Murray is the anchor of this one and carries the movie when he is asked, but The Life Aquatic thrives in the small side threads. Some of these are quite minor in terms of narrative impact, but pack a lot of character and entertainment, in short, concentrated bursts. These threads also put the ensemble cast to good use, as we see various combinations of these colorful characters and the dynamics therein, very cool stuff. So there is a central narrative as Zissou tries to mount this expedition for the shark, but the small side plots add so much to the movie, bringing some depth to even the smallest roles. Anderson’s films are always steeped in quirkiness, but this one goes above and beyond his baseline, but I loved the strange, awkward moments and had an absolute blast here. The pace is a little on the slow side, but I never found it to be dull and the characters and dialogue ensure interest remains reeled in. So if you like colorful, quirked filled cinema that takes great pleasure in the small moments, you need The Life Aquatic in your collection.
As I mentioned above, Bill Murray has the lead here and is the central force of the main narrative, but this is very much an ensemble piece. Murray’s presence anchors the entire movie however and to me, this one of his most masterful performances. This is just the kind of role that only Murray can bring to life in proper fashion, as he is able to remain likable despite Zissou’s various quirks. I also love how he makes the most of so many small moments here, just brilliant work. His interactions with the rest of the cast are just as effective, so no matter who he shares a scene with, the chemistry is on point and he brings the best out of his costars. Jeff Goldblum has a small role, but he totally steals the scenes he’s in and wrings all the humor out his time on screen. I love his scenes with Murray, just fantastic, masterful sequences. The cast also includes Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Noah Taylor, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Bud Cort, Matthew Grey Gubler, Seymour Cassel, and Michael Gambon. In other words, a loaded ensemble and the script ensures they all have moments to shine.