Terms of estrangement

Award-winning Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier makes his English-language debut with Louder Than Bombs, a star-studded domestic drama about grief and anguish that probably worked better in theory than in execution, although not for lack of trying.

The story opens a few years after the death of renowned photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) on the eve of a retrospective exhibition of her work. This prompts a reunion between her husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and their sons, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), who has just become a father, and Conrad (Devin Druid), an embittered college student.

Although time has passed, the silence between father and sons is deafening. Clearly they’ve not come to terms with the loss. Gene’s in a relationship with a colleague (nicely played by Amy Ryan), while Jonah, perhaps as a way to relive the past, enjoys a fling with an old flame (Rachel Brosnahan), and Conrad’s anger reaches the boiling point. Going through Isabelle’s belongings and retracing her life are catalysts to make strides toward acceptance of the situation – and each other.

Trier, also a screenwriter (with Eskil Vogt) and producer, employs flashbacks and fantasy sequences to fill in pieces of the puzzle, but although nicely shot by cinematographer Jakob Ihre, the imagery begins to complicate and overwhelm the narrative, which grows emptier and ever more pretentious before coming to a conclusion that still leaves some story threads unresolved.

The cast certainly tries hard. Eisenberg capably handles the dramatic aspects of his character, and newcomer Druid (who looks like he really could be Eisenberg’s brother) is clearly an actor on the rise. It’s always good to see David Strathairn, who appears periodically as an old colleague of Isabelle’s, even when all he really has to do is look glum. !

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