Louder Than Bombs marks acclaimed Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier’s English-language debut. Trier’s latest is much different from his previous feature, the widely-acclaimed Oslo, August 31. In Oslo, Trier utilizes an exceptionally focused look at a recovering drug addict, as he makes his rounds catch up with old friends and attend a job interview. Trier works in much more of a smaller scope with Oslo than he does Louder than Bombs in order to flesh out his character to the fullest degree. Louder than Bombs finds Trier covering much more ground, as he captures the toll that the death of an immediate family has on a family.
Three years after the suicide of his wife, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert), Gene (Gabriel Byrne), a father of two, still struggles to interact with his son Conrad (Devin Druid). Memories and emotions of his wife begin to pop up again as Gene begins to help a New York Times columnist work on a piece about Isabelle. Since the New York Times article will be giving a grand look at Isabelle’s life, Gene is faced with the predicament of now having to inform his son about his mother’s suicide. When Isabelle killed herself by driving her car into a truck, Gene felt that his son was too young to know the truth, and just told him that his mother was in a car accident. When Gene’s eldest son, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) comes back to visit the two to help go through his mother’s photography, Trier begins to explore the different stages that these three are in after the loss of Isabelle.
Huppert has more screen time than one would imagine. There are many flashbacks during the film back to a time in which she was alive. Trier’s careful approach as a director avoids making these flashbacks ever come across as excessively sentimental or blatantly inauthentic. The flashbacks contextualize the different relationships each of them had with her. Conrad continues to replay different scenarios of how his mother might have died. Byrne and Huppert play off of each other marvelously whenever they share a scene together. Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt’s screenplay include many thoughtful conversation, but those between Byrne and Huppert are undoubtedly the strongest.
While Louder Than Bombs moves at a fluid pace, for the most part, Trier does begin to venture away from his primary focus on the family. Trier does not contain the flashback to only being about Isabelle. Instead of spending time on expository dialogue, Trier introduces relationships through flashback. Using the flashback allows Trier to jump right into the story, as he wastes no time on scenes of exposition. The film is at its strongest when Trier is focusing on his three central character, but as the story progress, he begins to concentrate on the love lives of each of his character, which isn’t nearly as engrossing.
Teenage performances in family dramas are something that rarely impress, and often are just agitating. Much of the film success revolves around the committed performance from newcomer Devin Druid. Trier avoids playing Conrad off as the mopey character that he first appears as. Instead, he is much more focused on capturing his social interactions with his family and peers. As screenwriters, Trier and Vogt avoid most of the typical clichés of a teenager struggling with the loss of a parent. Instead, they add quite a bit of originality to his character and develop his struggle to get over his loss that many will be able to connect with by the end of the story.
The weakest plot point in the entire story revolves around Gene’s romantic relationship with Conrad’s English teacher. For a film that mostly rings true, this feels out of place. While Trier sets up their relationship nicely, all of the scenes that deal with their relationship comes across as “movie moments,” and lack the originality in the screenplay that Trier carries out everywhere else in the film. Their relationship is mostly just a plot device to dive into the guilt that Gene has from keeping information from his son. While this is vital to the story, Trier’s method of getting there feels amateurish.
While Trier’s latest does not come nearly as close to being as powerful as Oslo, August 31, Louder Than Bombs still packs a surprising amount of emotion. Above all else, Trier is a master with his actors and perfectly utilizes to his full potential. With a tighter focus and some extra time spent trimming the screenplay, Louder Than Bombs would easily be garnering more attention, but Trier’s latest is still something not to miss.