Bottle Rocket (1996)

Wes Anderson’s debut feature is so underrated it’s actually one of his best—a raw, humorous and amiable journey with a trio of young men hoping to pull off robberies for a living.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,394

Dir. Wes Anderson
1996 | USA | Comedy/Drama/Crime | 91 mins | 1.85:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for language

Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, James Caan, Lumi Cavazos
Plot: Three best friends attempt to escape their suburban boredom through a life of crime. But these bickering, bumbling thieves are no match for the local ‘godfather’ who leads them into the biggest heist of their careers.
Distributor: Sony

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Crime; Male Friendship
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

While Bottle Rocket isn’t a homerun by feature debut standards, I am of the opinion that it is so underrated that it is actually one of Wes Anderson’s best works.  I didn’t expect to enjoy it that much, and I very much prefer seeing it again than, say, Rushmore (1998), which I had trouble resonating with. 

An expansion of the short film that Anderson made in 1994, Bottle Rocket introduced to the world the talents of Luke and Owen Wilson, who play good friends Anthony and Dignan respectively. 

Dignan has the ambition of pulling off robberies for a living, but Anthony is rather lackadaisical about it.  As they pull in a third wheel in the form of Bob for a simple robbery, things don’t go according to plan when they are on the lam. 

“Why is there tape on your nose?”

Bottle Rocket feels raw and not as precisely staged as Anderson’s later works, which I feel is a breath of fresh air. 

While it might not be a quintessential or signature film of his from an artistic standpoint, one might argue that we can see more of the real ‘Wes’ here than, say, through the formal rigour—or indulgences—of works like the exquisite The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) or the lacklustre The French Dispatch (2021). 

A humorous and largely amiable journey, with bouts of requisite conflict and disdain thrown in, Bottle Rocket sees Anderson pulling off an extended segment of rare emotional delicateness—where Anthony falls in love with a Paraguayan housekeeper at a motel. 

Grade: A-




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