Film review of ‘Louder Than Bombs’

Scandinavia has a new Trier to loudly celebrate


The film opens with an oft-seen but nevertheless powerful image: a new-born’s tiny fingers clinging to that of an adult’s.

Seamless, peerless transitions
Jonah (Eisenberg) has, within hours, become a father to a baby girl named Isabelle. We then learn of a celebrated war photographer, also named Isabelle (Huppert), who recently met her end on an assignment in Syria. This Isabelle is Jonah’s mother, who also leaves behind Conrad (Druid) – the younger of her two sons – her husband Gene (Byrne) and a close work colleague, Richard (Strathairn).

Louder Than Bombs’ narrative strands are each concerned with one of these characters. They transition beautifully from one to the next – before the limits of their separate subjective understandings of this woman converge to bring us closer to a definitive truth about who Isabelle was and why she died.

Another Trier to celebrate
With just three films, Norwegian writer and director Joachim Trier has forged one of the most distinct voices in in European cinema. Reprise and Oslo, 31st August showcase his extraordinary skill for eliciting solid performances within mature, engaging and original dramatic material.

Louder Than Bombs is his American (and English-language) debut, and no matter what challenges that may have brought, Trier has successfully negotiated this shift in language and, to some extent, culture so that his voice remains tonally and aesthetically intact. This makes for an odd but happy contradiction: a family unit in the familiar American, suburban setting as rendered with Trier’s clean (but never cold) Nordic precision elevates potentially commonplace subject matter (a family dealing with the fallout of a death) to the point at which it reverberates with a captivating resonance.

Teenager steals the show
The standout performance at the chaotic core of the film is Devin Druid’s teenager, Conrad. The strained relations between Conrad, his father and the world he finds himself in inform the film’s heart.

Conrad was aged only 12 when he lost his mother and the repercussions are still felt three years later. There’s an innate understanding of teenage inner-life that echoes Gus Van Sant’s best films and recalls the work of directors like Nick Cassavettes who also have a similar knack for tapping into the limbo existence of one who is neither a child nor an adult.

Druid’s performance is convincing to the point at which he disappears into the role – and this is a compliment that can be paid to the entire cast. Even with such established talents as Gabriel Byrne and Isabelle Huppert, there is a rare sense of meeting strangers with real lives – and secrets.

Bombs will echo forever
The film tells of the way in which we conduct our lives, building constructs to hide behind, carefully monitoring what we allow others to see, playing multiple roles (the father Gene, quite literally, is an actor turned teacher) – essentially wearing masks. Jonah recalls his mother talking of the power to change perception of an image entirely by composing it differently.

Every character here engages in self-editing or censorship in some way, even young Conrad asserts that he’s ‘okay’, when he clearly isn’t. All of this is done for the purpose of hiding one’s self-perceived faults, thus escaping the spectre of loneliness – but frequently having the adverse effect.

Trier has crafted an insightful, existential drama, full of beautifully observed moments woven into a loose narrative that will linger long.