Norwegian director Joachim Trier is known for his aching prose and sublime sadness. The auteur’s critically heralded film, “Oslo, August 31st”, is a landmark achievement in morose wanderlust. And so, four years later, he has crafted another love letter to the crestfallen with his English language debut, “Louder Than Bombs”. Here, things get a little more clumsy, a little more maudlin. There’s so much bloodletting going on in this picture that even physicians in the 1600s would be rolling their eyes. So much concentrated sulking that even 2003 AFI would cash out and call it a day. And though Trier’s opus shares its title with a certain compilation by The Smiths, I’m relatively certain Morrissey would loathe this film. Here is a director that is more preoccupied with the idea of sadness than he is with crafting an actual story.
“Louder Than Bombs” revolves around a grief stricken father and his tenuous relationship with his two sons. Gabriel Byrne plays the emotionally bereft parent with a bumbling ease. The role doesn’t require much from the thespian (intermittently stutter, hide behind trees, plead into the receiver of a cellphone). Meanwhile, Jesse Eisenberg and David Druid play the actor’s troubled sons. Eisenberg’s character, Jonah, is a philanderer and absent father to his newborn child. The perpetually gloomy actor spends his screen time clicking away on computers (we haven’t seen this before) when he isn’t doling out flaccid wisdom to his younger brother. That particular sibling in question is named Conrad. Ah, yes. Conrad. The quixotic lump of coal teenager with the obligatory interests of a high school outcast. Everything that this character loves is a “who’s who” of conservative fear. Video games? Check. Anime? Sure. Anatomy? Yep. Writing? You bet. I imagine Trier went down a list of things that right wing parents fear, and ticked every box. Give me a break. Not every introverted teenager has to love violence and video games. Noah Baumbach’s “Squid and the Whale” created a more nuanced version of this situation. Even Todd Solondz films have a more discerning compass. Here, Trier writes in a lazy haze of news tropes.
“Louder Than Bombs” deals in the currency of depression and confusion. A crumbling family dynamic is a devastating topic, there’s no question, but just because a subject is inherently sad doesn’t necessarily make it moving. Trier treats despair like a sports car that needs to be driven at high speeds. This is showmanship and nothing more. There’s no resonance, no nurturing of ideas. His characters wallow in syrupy voiceovers. Sleep with women to quell their existential pain. It’s a carousel of male fantasy where there is no distinguished female voice. Literally every woman in this movie is either in bed with a man or waiting for a man to return to them. Or, when on screen, delivering a monologue of what a man thinks of them. How is it possible for a movie to be this infuriating? “Louder Than Bombs” – opening today at Ken Cinema – isn’t the worst of the year, but it’s certainly the most arrogant, and there’s something to be said for that.