Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The (2004)

Slightly overlong and its offbeat humour doesn’t always work, but this is one of Wes Anderson’s most strangely enigmatic of screen adventures.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,155

Dir. Wes Anderson
2004 | USA | Adventure/Comedy | 118 mins | 2.35:1 | English & various other languages
NC16 (passed clean) for language, some drug use, violence and partial nudity

Cast: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum
Plot: With a plan to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his partner, oceanographer Steve Zissou rallies a crew that includes his estranged wife, a journalist, and a man who may or may not be his son.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
Distributor: Disney

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: The Projector
Spoilers: No


While I can’t say I genuinely enjoy Wes Anderson’s movies (the ones that truly worked for me so far are Fantastic Mr Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel), there is something about The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou that feels strangely enigmatic, that while flawed, is one that I might revisit sometime in the future. 

Headlined by Bill Murray as Steve Zissou, an oceanographer whose ragtag crew helps him film his exotic if sometimes precarious adventures at sea, Life Aquatic brings together an ensemble of stars that include Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum and more. 

The first film of Anderson to be shot outside of the US in Italy (his follow-up, The Darjeeling Limited, would be filmed in India), Life Aquatic does feel quite European, not least by how the film is bookended by scenes of a prestigious unnamed European film festival where Zissou’s documentaries curiously play, or from the recurring visual motif of a Black man playing the guitar and singing in French. 

“Don’t point that gun at him, he’s an unpaid intern.”

Life Aquatic is quite a loosely-structured film, marked by quaintly-titled chapters—if there’s a main plot, it would be that of Steve trying to find a rare shark that had eaten his friend; but the film is more about his relationship with the other characters, particularly Wilson’s, who plays a young man who may or may not be his son. 

Anderson’s film may feel slightly overlong (at two hours, it’s not one of his tightest efforts) and its offbeat humour through dialogue doesn’t always work, but it contains some of the auteur’s most memorably-conceived sequences such as a dazzling trip down into the deep sea (with fine visual effects work by Henry Selick of Coraline) and intense action shootouts with Filipino pirates. 

Grade: B


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