A fractured film about a fractured family, Louder Than Bombs takes a potentially tired premise and reshapes it before our eyes. The tale isn't new, nor are the characters, but director Joachim Trier's stylistic and narrative dexterity demands attention: He possesses that rare ability to deconstruct his material without denying us the simple beauties of a well-told story.
A good thing, too, because the bare bones of the premise aren't inherently compelling. Gene Reed (Gabriel Byrne) is a high-school teacher whose famed war-photographer wife Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) took her own life in a car crash several years ago. His oldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) is a college professor who has just had his own baby with wife Amy (Megan Ketch), while Gene's younger son Conrad (Devin Druid) -- a moody, anxious teen fond of computer games and viral video clips -- is still under the impression that mom's death was an accident. When Gene is asked to help gather materials for an exhibit of Isabelle's work and an accompanying New York Times article, Gene realizes he has to break the news to his son of how the boy's mother really died. Meanwhile, Jonah comes down to stay with them, ostensibly to help out but also because he secretly yearns for a break from his own new parental responsibilities.
None of that, however, prepares us for the unusual complexity of Trier's narrative pirouettes and emotional tangents. He rarely follows one clear story idea. Instead, he indulges the characters' fixations, passions and even their visions. The film unhinges us from the present and lets us lose ourselves a little in the characters' reveries. The resulting fragmentation feels apropos.