Star Rating:

Louder Than Bombs

Actors: Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Ryan, Isabelle Huppert, Gabriel Byrne, Devin Druid

Release Date: Friday 22nd April 2016

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: Norway minutes

A densely layered exploration of guilt, loss, regret and ultimately hope, Louder Than Bombs threatens to fall apart under the weight of its own ambition but always rallies thanks to the strong performances and, in his first English language outing, Joachim Trier’s masterful treatment of his characters.

Gabriel Byrne’s widowed teacher still struggles despite it being three years since wife Huppert, a renowned war photographer, died. His relationship with his teenage son, Devin Druid, is strained because he’s told the fifteen-year-old that mum died in a car accident when in fact is she committed suicide, something the moody boy suspects. With David Strathairn’s journalist writing an article on her work, and the truth behind her death, time is running out for Byrne to come clean. Meanwhile, older son Eisenberg, who has just become a father, has returned home to help Byrne sift through Huppert’s photos for an upcoming exhibition...

That’s the story but Joachim Trier plays about with its presentation, jumping from character to character, trading voiceovers, scenes replayed from different perspectives, and moving from flashback to present time and back again. Calling them flashbacks is a stretch though as they are gently woven into the narrative to ensure Trier’s underlying theme: the past is present and what has happened will be a part of you forever. Attention is rewarded with Trier initially instilling mystery as to why characters act a certain way, and later the reasons behind their behaviour are revealed without fanfare. Louder Than Bombs really boasts a rich tapestry of conflicted characterisation.

While some sub-sub-plots can feel like distractions, like Eisenberg reuniting with college flame Rachel Brosnahan, the would-be romance between loner/wannabe writer Druid and a cheerleader has enough heartache and nuance to warrant its own film. Ditto Byrne and the feeling of his way into an awkward romance with colleague, and Druid’s teacher, Amy Ryan – his first relationship since Huppert died. Even Huppert, with her deep-rooted confliction over the ethics of her job, has her own journey despite being restricted to flashbacks.

The performances can’t be faulted with Huppert and Byrne’s subtle turns giving their fraught marriage a lived-in feel, the sea of hurt in the eyes of newcomer Druid’s eyes, and the unexpected soft and tender Eisenberg is welcome.

A haunting but ultimately heart-warming drama.