By Leonard Klady

Review: Louder Than Bombs

Louder Than Bombs is a family drama about the emotional fallout of the death of a woman death on her husband and her two sons. The filmmakers take up the story three years after the tragedy, when her work—she was a war zone photographer—is to be exhibited, along with the publication of a monograph.

Directed by Joachim Trier and written with his usual co-screenwriter Eskil Vogt, the Norwegian filmmaker’s fraught with the inner demons of the living and the dead. Though hardly the button-down stereotypes of the American family that was reflected in distant decades in Ordinary People to American Beauty, the surviving trio appear to have adopted the tentative aspect of behavior that belies their true nature. What’s led to such a fierce defense is the film’s other haunting question.

Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) spent decades on the frontlines of hot wars and lingered past the heat of the hostilities to record their devastating consequence. She’s less adrenalin junkie than a slave to the professional pursuit of capturing images that encapsulate horror and humanity in the landscape. Though absence is a hallmark of her family life, flashbacks demonstrate that she was engaged when she returned home.

Ironically, or not, when she finally decides to give up war photography, she dies in a fatal car crash with a big rig. The “or not” is the belief that it wasn’t an accident and that’s about to be exposed in a newspaper piece. Her husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and eldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) know that scenario, but teenager Conrad (David Druid) was spared that complexity at the time.

The exhibition brings the family back together, at least physically. Jonah moved away, married and has just celebrated the birth of a child. Gene, a high school teacher and former actor (there’s a hilarious clip from the 1987 Hello Again to reflect his former glory), has spectacularly failed in any meaningful communication with Conrad. He also suffers acute nerdiness that manifests itself in acting out and digging in.

It’s fitting, perhaps even inevitable, and certainly organic, that aftermath is the signature of Louder Than Bombs. The past informs but life goes on. The dilemma confronting the three men isn’t entirely the result of Isabelle’s death. Jonah’s is that he beginning to question whether he wants a seemingly traditional family; Gene is struggling with his involvement in a new relationship and Conrad is confronting typical teenage challenges he will assuredly overcome in a few years.

The visual palette of Louder Than Bombs opts for somber tones and images are cropped to accentuate the confinement of each individual. Eisenberg, seemingly the pivot, plays his character with a sly quality of detachment. He vainly fends off the very things he has to know come close to the truth. But the glue ultimately is provided by Byrne. His is a relentlessly interior performance that frustrates at every turn and yet is so impeccably honest one cannot help but be enthralled by his inability to break out of his shell.

The explosions in Louder Than Bombs are primarily subterranean and therefore sonically muffled. Nonetheless if you’re still perplexed by the riddle of the title it is SILENCE.

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