Louder Than Bombs (2015)

  • Time: 109 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Joachim Trier
  • Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Ryan


An upcoming exhibition celebrating photographer Isabelle Reed three years after her untimely death, brings her eldest son Jonah back to the family house – forcing him to spend more time with his father Gene and withdrawn younger brother Conrad than he has in years. With the three of them under the same roof, Gene tries desperately to connect with his two sons, but they struggle to reconcile their feelings about the woman they remember so differently.

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  • A compelling family drama in which emotional detonations are stealthier than its title would suggest, Louder Than Bombs explores the complex circuitry of connection via an American family coping with the loss of their matriarch.

    The mother in question is Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert), an acclaimed war photographer who dies in a car accident after finally retiring from her dangerous profession. Three years hence, her husband and sons are still in various states of grieving. Widower Gene (Gabriel Byrne) engages in a confidential affair with his younger son Conrad’s (Devin Druid) high school teacher (Amy Ryan). Perhaps it’s an indirect way to bridge the distance with his withdrawn son, much like the way he goes undercover as a character in one of Conrad’s role-playing video games or follows his son around after school to learn about his daily life. These attempts – sometimes silly, sometimes desperate – are somehow easier than confrontation.

    In fact, everyone in the family wilts at the merest prospect of confrontation, preferring acts of omission to telling truths. Oldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg), minutes after seeing his wife (Megan Ketch) and newborn daughter, runs into his ex-girlfriend (Rachel Brosnahan) whose ailing mother is in the same hospital. She mistakenly believes he lost his wife, he makes no attempt to correct her. It’s no surprise that Jonah disagrees when his father broaches the subject of revealing the true circumstances of Isabelle’s death to Conrad. Jonah may prefer to leave things as they are, for Isabelle’s memory to remain unblemished, but he may have no choice in this particular matter since an impending article by Isabelle’s former colleague (David Strathairn) is about to reveal that her death was a suicide rather than an accident.

    It’s a simple story and about as commonplace as they come but Norwegian director Joachim Trier, making his English-language debut, elevates it by recalibrating the narrative vertebrae, toying with continuity, structure and form. One could call it experimental if Trier wasn’t so rigorous and exacting in his execution. Flashbacks, fantasy sequences, shifting perspectives, and re-enactments are elegantly woven into the storytelling. Trier drives the story forward with images – not surprising given his background in advertising – but there are moments when the aesthetics are indulgent rather than substantial. Huppert is seen showered in shards of glass in one of Conrad’s imaginings – the sheer geometry of the composition is striking to behold, but it doesn’t necessarily contribute to or enlighten the overall story.

    Nevertheless, Trier achieves an emotional density with his novelistic approach. This is due in no small part to the excellent work of his actors. Byrne bears a mournful gravitas as Gene whilst Eisenberg and Druid bring depth and shade to characters that could have been one-dimensional. Huppert has the least amount of screen time but she utilises it to create the film’s most fascinating character – a woman more devoted to her work than to her family, for whom coming home was more difficult than making her way through the war zones.

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