THE FRENCH DISPATCH is directed by Wes Anderson. The film stars Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Lea Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, Anjelica Houston, Jason Schwartzman, Tony Revolori, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Owen Wilson, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Christoph Waltz, and Saoirse Ronan.
When the editor-in-chief of a newspaper passes away, his writers recount their past experiences and writing assignments. The subject matter includes local sights, an incarcerated artist, a youth uprising, and a police officer with a kidnapped son, each of which occupies its own chapter of the film.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH is Wes Anderson’s first film since the animated ISLE OF DOGS in 2018. It’s been a long time since we heard from Mr. Anderson, but this film lover is glad he’s back. Once again, he’s assembled an ensemble cast of actors with beautiful cinematography, a quirky atmosphere all his own, and a wide variety of subject matter. The film does struggle a bit under the weight of its storytelling, but it doesn’t stop this from being one of my favorite films of the year.
When it comes to cinema, no one can assemble an ensemble cast like Wes Anderson. Everyone chosen for their respective roles in the movie is perfectly cast for their respective roles, with highlights including Benicio del Toro as a tortured incarcerated artist, Frances McDormand as an investigative reporter who gets a bit too close to a young man she’s investigating, Owen Wilson as a sightseeing reporter, and Jeffrey Wright as a journalist who specializes in culinary articles and subject matter. Going through and pointing out the great performances in this film could be the subject of a standalone article, so I’ll leave it at that.
The real star of the show in THE FRENCH DISPATCH is the cinematography. The filmmakers make the surprising decision to shoot almost all of the film in black and white and in a 4:3 aspect ratio, something not done too often in theatrically-released cinema over the past several decades. This proves to be advantageous, as it enables shots to emphasize height; something essential for the French buildings seen throughout the film, as well as shots of the movie’s various human characters. It also enables the filmmakers to use shots of color and those in a widescreen ratio as needed for dramatic effect, in moments that require them. Anderson’s never been a director to do things the same way as everyone else, and his cinematographer, Robert Yeoman, deserves as Oscar for his work on this film. It must be seen to be believed, using every inch of space on the screen at any given time and wasting nothing.
Anderson’s film creates an atmosphere that’s surprisingly powerful and effective. In an anthology film such as this, it’s a challenge to balance the material, yet every one of these segments feels like it could have the potential to be its own movie. From behind prison doors where a beautiful guard poses as a model for art, to war-torn streets where a youthful rebellion strikes against society, it’s incredible how Anderson brings it all to life. A powerful musical score that suits each scene and setting only adds to this. It’s a movie that must be experienced to be believed, and certainly one it’s tough to write a conventional review for; Anderson’s never been a conventional filmmaker.
If there’s one disadvantage to the otherwise stellar work in THE FRENCH DISPATCH, it’s that the movie is perhaps a little too ambitious at times. The stories are largely self-contained, well-cast and plotted, but their narrative structures are a bit clumsy, and having to keep track of the characters and the story elements quickly becomes a chore unto itself. When we start getting flashbacks within flashbacks, things do become a bit too complex and bogged down. Personally, I’m surprised Anderson didn’t simply take one of the three core stories and simply develop it as a movie unto itself. However, I entirely intend to return to Mr. Anderson’s latest film, and perhaps this aspect will improve for me on future viewings.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH is Wes Anderson doing what he does best. Ensemble casts, gorgeous cinematography and exotic settings, plots that are as intriguing as they are comical and disturbing, and everything in between. It’s been a while since we heard from Wes, but this film fan assures audiences it was worth the wait.