Review: Louder than Bombs

Sriya Varadharajan 3 May 2016

Grief is not a tangible concept, making cinema a particularly interesting method of exploring it: visuals to illustrate an unexplainable emotion. Despite a rather clunky title, Joachim Treer’s Louder Than Bombs is an elegant depiction of the myriad ways that grief can manifest itself.

The film tells the story of of the death of renowned conflict photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) and the long-term effects this has on her husband (Gabriel Byrne), and sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid). The usage of non-linear narrative and scenes that blur the line between the real and the metaphorical mirror the actions of Jesse Eisenberg’s Jonah: roughly piecing together all of his late mother’s work in the hope of reconciling with a truth that might not exist. These interesting narrative techniques serve to create an arresting emotional story which the film meanders through with no sense of haste whatsoever. Whilst deliberately paced narratives are no bad thing, Louder Than Bombs’ extended periods of downtime detract from the otherwise intense emotional drama between the characters, preventing the audience from feeling involved.

And herein lies the problem that prevents Louder Than Bombs from being brilliant; though all of the events of the film feed into the underlying tension within this family that has lost its nexus, too many of the subplots  and characters feel superfluous unless one thinks about them harder than they should need to. One could argue that Jesse Eisenberg’s entire character is a plot device for Gabriel Byrne’s Gene to accept his faults and the brilliant Devin Druid’s Conrad to be able to enter back into a ‘normal’ life: Treer is brilliant at creating relationships, but the characters do not stand up on their own.

That said, Louder Than Bombs is able to do what many films are unable to: feel like a cohesive whole rather than a mere narrative string, a vessel for plot. Every aspect of all of the wonderful performances feeds into the central mood of the film; a rare case when plot drives emotions, rather than vice versa. The disparate narratives of the film would seem to be converging to one center, aided by the film’s ability to depict the same event in multiple different ways, and characters only being loosely connected to their temporal plane. Sadly they only seems to circle around this point of convergence. Not a bullseye, but twenty-five points isn’t bad.