After a six year directing hiatus (discounting Autumn's rock-doc Pearl Jam 20), Crowe has made a triumphant return to filmmaking through this film. Complimented by a memorably used soundtrack written entirely by Icelandic singer Jonsi, Crowe's laid back direction adds more to an almost entirely performance driven film by not attempting any elaborate shots or camera tricks. The camera simply goes where it must go, and other than a few blatantly manipulative shots of Damon's daughter's smiling face (not usually a sap for giggling small children in movies, but newcomer Maggie Elizabeth Jones is effectively adorable in every scene she's in), not much by way of direction is too noticeable.
As previously noted, the performances in this film are all fairly good; ranging from solid (Thomas Haden Church as Damon's cynical brother) to the downright exceptional (Matt Damon as the man who bought a zoo). Crowe's laid back filmmaking forces the actors to truly give it their all in their performances, and each rise to the occasion in their own way. Surprisingly, the actor given the least to do with their character would be Scarlet Johansson, whom despite given what is essentially the largest supporting role really doesn't allow (the blame doesn't fall entirely on Johansson though; the script is at fault as well) her character to develop beyond generic semi-love interest. Even Elle Fanning who plays the coined "Manic-Pixie Dream Girl" character found so frequently in Crowe's other films, while being occasionally annoying with her constant perkiness, at least gives a memorable performance. The same cannot be held true for Johansson.
Perhaps it's watching the one-two punch of We Bought A Zoo and Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, or maybe it's just because I skipped out on the "Feel Bad Movie of Christmas" The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but film wise the year is going out on a happy note; film premise wise and film execution wise. Eventually I'll create a "Best Of" list for the year, but until then I'd just like to say it truly has been a great year for movies. Whether it's the Cameron Crowe happiness hangover, or the fact I'm witting this review on December 31 I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it needed to be said. See you all in 2012!
Note: This review is going up late, so some of the effect of the final paragraph might have receded for those reading by now. Either way, happy new year!