Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel review

In Hollywood, there are only a few filmmakers who have a distinctive style. Most directors bounce around from film to film with little to no emotional attachment to the project. A select few write, produce and direct their own films, but even they can chance the style of their films every once in a while. It takes a special director to establish his own style. Stanley Kubrick did it. Quentin Tarantino did it. And now, I think that we most certainly can add Wes Anderson to that category. Anderson has been in the film business for a long time, making films like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Anderson truly captured audiences back in 2012 with Moonrise Kingdom and now, he's done it again with The Grand Budapest Hotel. This quirky, hilarious comedy has already captured audiences, making almost a million dollars in four theaters on its opening weekend. It's one of the flat out best films I've seen this year, filled with unique humor, great action and a spectacular plot. This film is an instant classic.

The Grand Budapest Hotel tells its story in multiple flashbacks. We start with an old writer (Tom Wilkinson) who flashes back to the time when he met Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) as a younger man, played by Jude Law. As a young writer, he stayed at the Grand Budapest Hotel and met Zero, who tells him the story of how he became the owner of the hotel. Zero then flashes back to the time when he was a young man (Tony Revolori), working as a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel. While working there, Zero befriends Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the popular concierge at the hotel. Gustave knows all the guests at the hotel and is friends with all of them. However, Gustave and Zero eventually get trapped in a murder mystery as Gustave is accused of killing his friend Madame D (Tilda Swinton). Soon, Gustave and Zero are fugitives on a journey across Europe to prove Gustave's innocence and protect a prize painting. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a tough movie to summarize, because there's just so much going on. In that synopsis, I didn't even mention Madame D's son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), the Society of the Crossed Keys, or Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum). There are a lot of small, yet integral characters in this film and they all serve some sort of purpose to the plot. It's a tough movie to try to summarize in one paragraph. But it doesn't take a whole paragraph to say that this movie is absolutely brilliant. It gets off to a bit of a rough start as Anderson tries to acclimate you to the multiple narrator thing and the ending is a little shaky, but other than that, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a brilliant film. 

Let's start with the performances, because it really does take a specific type of actor to pull off Anderson's style of humor. Ralph Fiennes is Oscar worthy as Gustave. He really does give a brilliant performance in this film and he is hilarious throughout. If there are five performances better than that at the end of the year, I'll be shocked. The supporting cast is also terrific. Revolori gives a strong performance as Zero and he has quite a few funny moments as well. Jeff Goldblum is terrific as Kovacs and he has some of the best lines of the film. Willem Dafoe is also brilliant as Jopling and Harvey Keitel has a small, but hilarious role. All in all, Anderson assembled a stunning cast here and gave all of the actors a little something to do. 

This film is actually an action film of sorts, which I found to be pretty funny. There are ridiculous chase scenes, a prison break and a huge gunfight at the end of the film. Anderson stages all of these scenes to perfection and proves that he's really a great director of action. His candy-colored universe is the perfect setting for the kind of action that Anderson films and all of the scenes are perfect. 

The technical elements of this film are also so insanely good. This movie looks, sounds and feels awesome and I loved every single detail. The miniatures that Anderson uses are gorgeous and the exquisitely made sets are even more amazing. Everything has its own specific quirk and I could go on and on about just how spectacular these sets and miniatures are. And yet, I have more great things to get to. The score for this film is also brilliant. It's a classical score, but it conveys both a lighthearted and yet slightly mysterious tone, which works perfect for this film. 

Anderson's style of humor is very distinct and it definitely shows in this movie. It's quirky and witty and even a little dark at times. Actually, there's quite a bit of dark humor in this film, from a severed head to a series of brutal stabbings to a dead cat, this movie has a lot of violence that I found to be pretty hilarious. The person I saw it with thought that the humor was morbid and not all that funny. I strongly disagreed. The best comparison is Hot Fuzz, which has the same morbid sense of dark humor with exploding heads and decapitations. If you like Hot Fuzz or any of Tarantino's films, you'll definitely appreciate the style of humor in The Grand Budapest Hotel. 

However, despite the beautiful production design and the laugh-out-loud humor, the reason why I liked this movie so much was the story. It's a compelling, engaging film from beginning to end. It never stops moving and there's always a new plot point to deal with. I found the film constantly entertaining and the mystery to be quite interesting. There's one little thing at the end of the movie that isn't explained well enough, but it's not a big deal. 

The only problems I had with this movie were the beginning and the end. It starts out well enough, but it takes a minute to understand exactly what Anderson is doing. That wasn't a huge problem for me, but it was enough of a nitpick for me to want to mention it. Also, the film just didn't quite stick the landing. If it had, this movie would probably be perfect, but it just didn't quite get it right. I don't know. It just wrapped up too fast at first and then ended up drawing out the ending for quite a while. 

In the end, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an almost perfect film that features terrific performances, an exciting story and some great humor. I really loved this film and it's already one of my favorites of the year. Wes Anderson is two for two so far (Fantastic Mr. Fox being the only other one of his films that I've seen) and he really impressed me with this one. I loved it. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                               (8.8/10)




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