The ever-adored Wes Anderson premiered his new film, Isle of Dogs, last month at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, taking home the prize for Best Director. The buzz surrounding the film was that he had hit another home-run in the form of a stop motion picture focused on the love found in our relationships with dogs.
Just last Friday the film premiered worldwide, but it didn’t get to Baltimore until this past Tuesday. I can only assume that it will remain at The Charles Theatre for a few weeks at the very least.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see Isle of Dogs on Monday, which enabled me to gather my thoughts about it prior to writing this review.
There’s no denying that Isle of Dogs is a good movie. However, at this point in Wes Anderson’s career we know what to expect from his films: movies that feel emotionally detached up until the third act when everything hits you like a wave. Additionally, the characters at the heart of his stories are taken on journeys of self-discovery.
What makes this film different is that the characters this story centers on are, of course, the dogs. Each dog in this film not only looks very distinct (kudos to the animation team for their incredible work) but also has their own unique personality.
Ultimately the story is about one stray dog that we meet on Trash Island, Chief (Bryan Cranston), and how he changes while accompanying Atari (Koyu Rankin) in the search for Spots (Liev Schreiber).
It’s Anderson at the peak of his powers, from the idiosyncratic behavior exhibited by his characters to the immense detail he puts into his work. He puts an incredible amount of effort into giving this portrayal of Japan an authentic feel.
However, it’s this effort that leaves the audience a little baffled by some decisions, such as the inclusion of Greta Gerwig’s character, American foreign exchange student Tracy Walker. She makes one question if the plot requires the story to be set in Japan.
Another odd choice is the lack of full translations from Japanese to English. The dialogue that is spoken in the film isn’t translated, except when an onscreen translator (Frances McDormand) is present. This comes off as cute at first, but after a while one is left wondering what the point of allowing the characters to speak in their native language is if it’s not deemed important enough to be translated.
Additionally, Tracy’s character proves to be the most insufferable character on screen, not serving a purpose other than to serve as the catalyst for the mini-revolution that takes place. She falls directly under the white savior trope, with the worst part of it all being that she could have easily been written out of the story.
Despite this, as I previously described, it’s a movie that really hits the heart, even more significantly so if you’ve ever owned a pet and dealt with the grief of losing them.
It’s also an attempt at social commentary that is a bit on the nose, yet gets lost when you begin to think about the problems the film itself faces.
At the end of the day, Isle of Dogs is a film that you have to watch in order to really get a sense of what Anderson is trying to do. It’s a misguided effort, but the film still gets four good boys out of a possible five from me.