Bottle Rocket is, of course, Wes Anderson’s debut feature. It’s based on a short film he had made a few years earlier, and stars many of other actors you would expect to see in Anderson’s films, including Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson. It’s a film about an outsider of course, but unlike his others it’s set in Texas—which makes sense as the director is originally from West Texas.
The plot centres on the story of Dignan (Owen Wilson), who goes to a mental hospital and gets his friend Anthony out. They go to meet another friend, Mr Henry, and Dignan shows him his crazy ‘’75-year plan” for a series of spectacular heists. As you might imagine, the plan does not go off very well.
Bottle Rocket didn’t quite have the visual inventiveness that you think of now when you think of Wes Anderson—it very much looks like a mid-90s low-budget indie film. But you can also clearly see and hear the Anderson touch in the dialogue. Bottle Rocket was basically him learning to make a feature properly. It’s also the only film he’s done without Bill Murray—he had been considered for Mr Henry, but he wasn’t easy to get in touch with. The very specific shot compositions Anderson is known for are present in parts but not as a coherent whole.
It’s still quite a good film, very funny and with what might be the best performance Owen Wilson has ever given. He is quite lovable as this complete idiot. Luke Wilson and James Caan are good as well, although Caan, who plays Mr. Henry, did not get on well with the director (not unlike the difficulties Anderson had with another veteran actor who did not appreciate his whimsical style, Gene Hackman, on The Royal Tenenbaums.)
It was shot by long-term Anderson collaborator Robert D. Yeoman, the first outing for a team that has developed a clear visual style that in their more recent films almost looks like a children’s book brought to live. While not his best film, it’s a remarkable small film and paved the way for the direction his career has since taken.
The film has an excellent soundtrack, including tunes by Love and The Rolling Stones, plus a subtle score by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, who at this point had not been very active as a composer of film scores (although he was already quite busy with TV work). They have continued working together ever since.
The film absolutely bombed when it came out, so much so that Owen Wilson almost joined the Marines, thinking that he had no future as an actor…
The package includes the original short, which is what got Anderson his deal with James L. Brooks. There’s also a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, commentary, and a bunch of other features.