We Bought A Zoo Dir: Cameron Crowe

Bourne star Matt Damon gets his family drama on in Cameron Crowe’s first major film in seven years.

Struggling to get over the loss of his wife, journalist Benjamin Mee (Damon) is out seeking a fresh start for himself and his two kids.  He finds a new home in the country with one catch; it comes with a dilapidated zoo. Out of his depth, and almost out of pocket, it’s up to him and the rag-tag zoo crew (led by Scarlett Johannson) to get the place back in shape to pass inspection. It’s based on a true story, with the action now taking place in southern California instead of the English countryside.

Used to extreme workouts to get in shape for his action movies, Damon probably enjoyed letting go for once to fit the father image. With Cameron Crowe back in the directing chair (after Elizabethtown and the Pearl Jam 20 doco) I felt it there was a chance for Matt’s own Jerry Maguire. Though never quite as consistent as Crowe’s classy romantic drama, my girlfriend and I definitely felt a few warm fuzzy moments amongst the formulaic sentimentality.

Damon always gives 110% and as usual never comes across as phoney throughout the movie, even with a few sappy lines. But even without makeup and some overalls I struggled with Scarlett being a dowdy zookeeper. I’m sure Crowe could’ve searched a bit harder (Maggie Gyllenhaal maybe?). Thomas Hayden Church is good comic relief as Damon’s beleaguered accountant brother, but the star of the show is Maggie Elizabeth Jones as the precocious young daughter. Acting beyond her years, and putting the mopey older brother to shame, she was a definite highlight for my girlfriend too.

Now if only the director could just limit the use of his patented ‘Cameron Crowe wistful look off camera with inoffensive indie track soaring in the background’ shot. Honestly, it worked great at the ‘you had me at hello’ moment in Jerry Maguire, but too much of a good thing is, well, too much. There’s one scene where Matt does a look, then Scarlett, then half the animals at the bloody zoo do it too, all to the rousing signature Sigur Ros track Hoppipolla.

Which all makes sense really as Sigur Ros front man “Jónsi” Birgisson actually composes the score. Crowe follows the successful trend of using talented musicians as composers, like Trent Reznor (Social Network) and The Chemical Brothers (Hanna). And like Almost Famous and Say Anything, Crowe’s soundtrack is nice eclectic mix.

While not a complete return to form for Crowe, We Bought a Zoo is definitely a solid family heartwarmer.

Clayton Barnett

Click here to watch the trailer for We Bought A Zoo: