Note: This is a repost of my review from the 2015 Middleburg Film Festival.
Joachim Trier's first English-language film and third feature, Louder Than Bombs, is heavy in dramatic material and boasts several perspectives connected to one integral and central character. Many other directors might perceive this is too difficult to do, but it's a task Trier pulls off almost seamlessly. The film puts its characters first and foremost while Trier and his writing partner Eskil Vogt weave a thread through their lives in a film that is emotionally felt as well as a lesson in how lack of communication and how difficult it is to maintain fluidity in family life can make wider the bridge that separates them.
A few years after a fatal car accident kills Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert), a conflict photographer, her husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) is left with his two sons, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and Conrad (Devin Druid). Jonah, years older than Conrad, has made a life for himself as a professor, is married and has a new baby. Conrad, on the other hand, struggles through high school. Socially awkward, moody, and boasts a severe attitude problem, he is prone to barely saying a few words to anyone, including to his father. Gene is worried about his son and wants to communicate in whichever way he can, but finds it difficult to have a meaningful conversation without being shut down. There is a secret that Gene needs to share about the circumstances of Isabelle's death to his son, but it's obvious that they are still hurting over her absence and also have different points of view as to who she was as a person, wife, and mother.
Louder Than Bombsis a very intimate affair. The plot is as simple as they come, but it's how the perspectives and scenes shift from character to character and points in time that give strength to this film. It's so emotionally involved and there's a fluidity that flows from scene to scene that heightens the tension between the characters at all times. Besides being intimate, the film is also very honest. And while characters like Eisenberg's Jonah and Druid's Conrad are a bit too aggravating at times (Conrad has enough attitude to be every parent's nightmare), all the interactions are filled with meaning. Every single cast member does a superb job overall in reflecting their character's state of mind. The title, symbolic of Isabelle's job as a war photographer, can relate to several different meanings. The silence, communication issues, and the rift between the family after Isabelle's death has shattered them and made such a disturbance. A drama generally well-executed and one that resonates.