It was already a good year for erudite, mannered white filmmakers, with Whit Stillman's strong and sometimes very deeply felt "Damsels in Distress." But Stillman's protege Wes Anderson, following up his excellent "Fantastic Mr. Fox," has made 2012 a great year for the privileged. "Moonrise Kingdom" is a wonderful, tonally adept, beautifully crafted, and near impeccably acted film that dodges most of the traps that its familiar and too-quirky-on-paper scenario sets up. The way "Moonrise" is marketed suggests a film very easy to get on your nerves; in actuality, the complete opposite (at least for me) is true. Once the film finds its footing after a red herring of a precious opening sequence, it's essentially all uphill, a masterful ride of a childish adventure.
The film equally divides itself between the efforts to search for two runaway kids and what the kids are doing while they're being looked for. This could have been an iffy proposition if the "fugitives" in question weren't such strong screen presences. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy are given a remarkable amount of time and they, under the calculated direction of Anderson, elevate their material to the stars. They make their story of two emotionally disturbed types (one a neglected, orphaned Khaki Scout; the other a troubled iconoclast) true and relatable, two words that aren't always the most prominent in describing a Wes Anderson film. All of their scenes, from their first meeting, to a clipped montage of letter-writing, to their adolescent courtship and views of love, are pitch-perfect. The rest of the child actors are also superb.
The bit with the adults comes through, too, and I think that Anderson did himself good by working with a lot of new actors. I'd never thought I'd see such gravitas from Bruce Willis, playing a sympathetic cop (Captain Sharp) in the middle of a declining affair with Suzy's mother (an exceptional Frances McDormand). And I'd never thought I'd see such comic chops from Edward Norton, who does a great turn as Khaki Scout Master Ward, a man who takes his job very seriously (to the point of intense depressions while journaling it). The only actor I was really disappointed in was Bill Murray, cuckolded once again by Anderson and not given too much to work with. He has some good moments, but his performance doesn't pop in the same way that fellow regulars' Bob Balaban's or Jason Schwarzman's do (hilarious in only about 5 or so minutes as Cousin Ben).
Another thing I was very impressed with here was Anderson's clearly developed filmmaking technique. He's always been known for his style, but here he creates truly astonishing imagery, playing with light and playfully mimicking '60s and awkward childhood filmmaking devices as well as terrible special effects. He's made quite the film, both human and aesthetically pleasing, and one that continues the run that began with "The Darjeeling Limited" (which I love unabashedly) in very good fashion. A-