Review: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar + 3 More Wes Anderson Shorts
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – 76%
Reviewer Flickchart ranking: 1,257 / 5,230
Wes Anderson’s second outing in 2023 after Asteroid City is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.” A Netflix Original film, it comes in at 39 minutes, just under the Academy’s line between a short and a feature. Dahl (Ralph Fiennes), through the visual landscape of Wes Anderson, tells the story of Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch), a rich man who spends his life gambling in hopes of becoming richer.
The story opens with Fiennes introducing us to our new world, which is filled with the rich color palette and intricate set design one expects from a Wes Anderson film. First, Fiennes explains to us the desires of the wealthy – to be wealthier still – and then brings us to the tale of Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley), a man who can see without using his eyes. Sugar discovers the manuscript of Khan’s amazing life and sets forth to recreate the skill so he can cheat at blackjack.
Anderson returns to Dahl after previously adapting the modern stop-motion classic Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). In Henry Sugar, Anderson does not give his actors room for movement. He stages them intentionally in the frame, often talking directly at the camera. But our whimsical director instead grants us movement through the stage itself. We watch the sets dismantle before us, briefly glimpsing the sound stage, and then wires and stagehands deftly assemble a new set before our eyes. In this manner it is not just Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, Kingsley, or Fiennes breaking the fourth wall, but the whole film itself. One might say it is a wonderful celebration of the artificiality at the heart of cinema and art. Or that it is just a lot of fun.
Mileage will vary due to how you embrace the cinematic landscapes of Anderson. I found The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar to be another beautiful celebration of life in all its awkward and colorful glory.
The Swan – 87%
Reviewer Flickchart ranking: 681 / 5,263
The Swan comes in at 17 minutes and focuses on Peter Watson as an adult (Rupert Friend) and a child (Asa Jennings). This Roald Dahl story revolves around a terrible incident between two bullies and young Peter Watson. The tale is recounted by his adult self, and the action and narration are acted in tandem (a recurring theme in all of the Anderson-Dahl shorts). The sadistic torment Watson suffers, despite never actually being seen, feels overwhelming and heartbreaking by the conclusion. This is Anderson at his most melancholy, and no amount of mustard yellows can cover the pain at the center of The Swan.
The Rat Catcher – 48%
Reviewer Flickchart ranking: 2,723 / 5,264
The Rat Catcher plays as a trio with Ralph Fiennes (Rat Man), Richard Ayoade (Editor), and Rupert Friend (Claud Cubbage) sharing the screen for almost the entire duration. Ayoade takes the role as the primary narrator this time out, recounting the conversations and attempts of a professional rat catcher to catch rats that have infested a village. The most interesting thing here is the distinguished Fiennes transforming himself into the Rat Man. The film lacks the emotional depth of The Swan or Henry Sugar, but it does offer an interesting foray into absurdist violence for Anderson.
Poison – 60%
Reviewer Flickchart ranking: 2,099 / 5,265
Poison is another three-man outing with Cumberbatch (Harry Pope), Patel (Supervisor Woods), and Kingsley (Dr. Ganderbai) leading the way. Woods, our storyteller, discovers Harry Pope frozen and sickly in his bed. Barely able to speak, Pope relays his predicament: a highly venomous snake has slithered under his bed sheets, inside of his pajama top, and is resting upon his abdomen. Woods rushes to find Dr. Ganderbai, who hatches a scheme to free Pope from the fatal reptile. Anderson does a great job wedding tension and comedy in Poison. However, I’m not certain the film earns its finale.