Welcome to The Wright Stuff, our weekly column following the career of Raptors point guard Delon Wright. Since we can’t influence his training or anything on the court, we’ll recommend films that reflect his past week and hopefully inspire a leap forward. It’ll be part film breakdown, part essay, and part whatever loose piece of wisdom we can shake from the experience.
There’s no violence to Delon Wright’s game. That feels like a fair statement to make. There are a surplus of other adjectives we could use to describe it — graceful, versatile, surprising, wonderful — but no one would link what Wright does on the court to any sort of physical attack. (Even his blocks seem relatively genteel and apologetic.)
This week saw Wright provide a shooting explosion in a loss (5-of-6 from deep, for 20 points), and a stat line as quiet as his on-court performance was loud: 1-of-5 from the field, four points, five assists, three rebounds, two blocks, but an organizing presence throughout in a win. These are the ups and downs to Delon, but the emotional through line here remains: he’s going to do what he does and not get too upset about it.
Meanwhile, there were a lot of fights in the NBA over the past week or so. It felt like some collective call to action, some sudden desire for violence, boiled over all at once across the league. The Raptors were not immune (hey Serge!), but we know for his part, Delon is likely to stay in his lane. His goals, like his game, feel far more innocent.
It’s all very passé to discuss the work of Wes Anderson now. We could blame this on irony overload, or on, perhaps, the circular description of his singular film style as “Anderson-ian.” Maybe you are just tired of Owen Wilson. I get it, but I disagree. The point here is to push all of these complaints from your mind and to just enjoy Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, for what it is — an innocent and wonderfully made piece of work.
Bottle Rocket was released in 1996 and flopped hard (it made less than one million bucks). Despite this, the film launched the career of Anderson, plus stars (and brothers) Owen and Luke Wilson. Over the past 20 years, Anderson has since gone on to make a run of indelible and much-loved films, while the Wilsons became unlikely movie stars for a time. And it all started with a simple film shot in their home town.
The film is about two friends, Dignan and Anthony, who decide to become criminals — thieves, to be exact — but this is not an angry or vengeful movie. Dignan (Owen) is, if anything, a troubled dreamer, a guy with a lot of imagination who lacks a source of guidance in his life. His buddy Anthony (Luke) is just out of a mental hospital (for exhaustion), just looking for something to do. (The third member of their criminal enterprise, Bob, has a car, which makes him invaluable.) The truth is, neither of these two guys — I hesitate to use the word “men” — have any idea of what it is they’re doing. They want to be something, but that’s as far as they’ve gotten with it.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Dignan has gotten pretty far with it. He’s planned out the next few weeks, months, years (and, comically, decades) of his and Anthony’s lives. He’s certain he’ll become a criminal mastermind, despite having no real sense of malice. He can’t contend with his devious “benefactor” Mr. Henry (a jovially evil James Caan), and he most certainly doesn’t understand how deep the water into which he wades truly is. We worry about Dignan.
Naturally, the duo never really achieve the big score that sets them on this crazy plan of action. Dignan’s drive sets him on a weird and dangerous direction; Anthony meanwhile finds love and figures out that the schemes of youth often don’t make it into adulthood. They cling a bit to who they are (and were) anyway, though — and why not? They haven’t been caught so far.
In the film, Anderson uses all of the flourishes that would eventually become his trademark — squared close-ups, cheery off-beat pop music cuts, a written whimsy that is cloying to some, but in effect creates something pure: innocence. It’s an easy thing to lose, and as everyone knows: once it’s gone, it’s impossible to gain it back. We may roll our eyes at Dignan and Anthony, but we also remember what it was like to wantonly chase after our own dreams.
Delon’s in that stage as well. He’s not going to throw any punches, or do something too wild, but gone are the days when he was just a young kid trying to quietly fit in. Wright’s of an NBA age (almost 26) when something is expected of him now, even as we wonder about where else he could go with his talents. It’s a funny place, one filled with surprise and disappointment in equal measure.
That’s where the same protective impulse comes from — with Dignan, Anthony, and sure, Delon too. We want the best for them because we know the greater dangers (criminal violence, over-sized wings) could give them trouble. And most of all: we want them to succeed.
Anderson created two fictional characters forever frozen in time, in an aimless youth to be relived again and again. We know how and when Bottle Rocket ends, but I suspect I’m not alone in wondering, deep down, whatever became of Dignan and Anthony. It’s silly, but that’s just another part of being innocent, of blocking out the scary wider world, and, like Wright, just going out there to play.