Joachim Trier’s English language-debut “Louder Than Bombs” takes a novelistic approach to its examination of grief across generations. Using a variety of feverish stylistic devices — flashbacks, dream sequences, scenes staged from different perspectives, poetic sequences, narration — Trier externalizes repressed interior emotion not by forcing it out of his subjects but by detailing it honestly without any burden of catharsis. After the suicide of famous photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert), her widowed husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) and eldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) wonder how to tell youngest son (Devin Druid) the truth about his mother’s death after Isabelle’s close colleague plans to disclose the truth in an extensive tribute. Over the course of a few short days, the three men come to a suburban New York house to both deal with and not deal with the issue at hand. The result is a powerful, well-crafted film that never tries to force an ending onto its characters emotions, instead leaving it at an ellipsis.
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A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
Appropriately, for a film about something as gradual as grief management, “Louder Than Bombs” doesn’t attempt to reach some big, dramatic resolution. There’s no shouting-match confrontation, no cathartic scene of these three men finally and fully working through the damage loss has done to their family. The fireworks here are all of the formal variety, Trier using his deep bag of tricks to express the mess of feelings his characters can’t quite communicate. This is a movie of significant moments, nearly all about connection: two teenagers of different social strata sharing a lovely, fleeting communion as night bleeds back into day; two men — rivals in romance — discussing the woman they both loved, as well as either of them could; and two brothers marveling over how young their father once was, as Trier — in a trick borrowed from Steven Soderbergh’s “The Limey” — uses footage from “Hello Again” to conflate the past of a character and the actor playing him. It’s a film as complicated as the fictional lives it depicts, big insights echoing like the distant roar of explosion. Read more.
Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
Joachim Trier’s “Louder Than Bombs” is interested in the intersection between grief and memory, and how difficult it is to capture both either through photography or film. It is a movie that comments on its own purpose (as co-writer Eskil Vogt’s “Blind” did as well) by making one of its most essential characters a conflict area photographer, someone who once lamented the difficulty in maintaining focus on the specific people she chronicles and not turning them into universal examples. Trier, a masterful filmmaker who has already delivered must-sees in “Oslo, August 31” and “Reprise,” navigates an incredibly tricky minefield of mourning, regret and the detailed minutiae that makes up our lives. It is a statement on life and death that opens with a newborn baby’s hand but is primarily about how we process loss. Sometimes its meandering approach can feel a bit more detached than in Trier’s best work, but this is ultimately a delicate, complex film that lingers, unpacking itself in your mind. You remember it in the same kind of fragmented images that haunt its characters. Read more.
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
It is possible to admire the craft and sensitivity of “Louder Than Bombs” without quite believing it. The characters are so carefully drawn that they can feel smaller than life, and the dramatic space they inhabit has a curiously abstract feeling. The kind of fine-grained realism that Mr. Trier is attempting — and that he succeeded in creating in his earlier features — depends on a density of implication. You need to be able to imagine the life of any given character extending beyond the frame, and to perceive the contours of social and domestic life in which the ensemble is embedded. That intangible sense of continuity, of weight, is missing here, so that you are always aware of the faintly humming machinery of the script, and of the willed subtlety of the performances. Mr. Byrne and Mr. Eisenberg are impeccable, but they seem more hemmed in than liberated by their craft, which is to say that Gene and Jonah are beautifully rendered ciphers. Read more.
Guy Lodge, Time Out London
This is the stuff of unapologetic melodrama, artfully structured in such a way that the rotating stories inform and enhance each other even when only one character is in focus: absence is a presence, and that doesn’t refer only to the missing mother in the family. Yet the emotional conclusions here can be a little pat, and catharsis too easily come by. It’s more cautiously sound-proofed than its title implies. Only when Huppert’s on screen does the film feel it could detonate at any moment. Read more.