Louder than Bombs review: muffled English-language debut by Joachim Trier

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Norwegian film-maker Joachim Trier and his longtime screenwriter Eskil Vogt – a director himself – won golden opinions at Cannes in 2011 with their film Oslo, August 31st, which showed in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. Now they have stepped up to the main Competition with a contrived family drama in the English language, portentously entitled Louder Than Bombs. The resulting noise turns out to be a bit muffled and very anti-climactic: a rather silly, pointless and directionless film.

It is about a supposedly renowned war photographer, preposterously played by Isabelle Huppert, who evidently specialises in those apoliticised, stereotypical images of women in veils in the Middle East and of nameless people getting blown up: we are naturally invited to admire her courage in getting these images published in the face of placid, heartless Western indifference. (Worryingly, Juliette Binoche played a similar role in the film A Thousand Times Goodnight: another posturingly daring “war photographer” who is not believable for a single moment.)

A major retrospective exhibition is organised after the photographer’s tragic and untimely death, along with a lengthy profile in the New York Times by her close colleague, played by David Strathairn. Her husband, played by Gabriel Byrne, is dealing with the way this is opening old wounds: particularly for her younger teen son , played by Devin Druid. Her older twentysomething son, played by Jesse Eisenberg, gets pretty substantially messed up.

Louder than Bombs.
The frustrating thing about this movie is that it begins with a tremendously funny and unexpected scene. Eisenberg becomes the father of a baby son and wanders through the hospital in search of food for his ravenously hungry wife; he comes across his old girlfriend, in the same hospital to care for her ailing mother – a clever, ambiguous scene ensues. Nothing else in the film comes anywhere near matching it, although Vogt and Trier try to create some elegant and disorientating POV shifts as Byrne’s dad character spies on his errant boy.


Basically, we are in alienated-teen and aliented-adult territory, with the self-conscious air of American Beauty. The two sons bond over the weirdness of everything that is happening, and the poor old dad tries to bond with his younger boy over first-person fantasy computer games. Actually, it’s a reasonably amusing sequence. But we can never be sure where the real dramatic focus is, or why and for whom we should care.

Shifting to English, and the template of Anglo-Hollywood, has perhaps created a tonal and structural difficulty for Trier, and the resulting film feels not merely like a knockoff of American Beauty, but like a pastiche of something by Atom Egoyan or Denis Villeneuve: a tiresome Euro-American pudding. There is one very striking closeup sequence of Isabelle Huppert’s face, reminding us what potential this performer will always bring to any film project. But the rest of this is very flat, very self-conscious and bafflingly disappointing.


It seemed like a film with potential, but it has disappointed. I don't think I shall go and see it now.

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