Movie Review: ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ is expertly constructed
Here are 15 good reasons to see “Grand Budapest Hotel”: Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Lea Seydoux, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum and Jason Schwartzman.
And here’s one great reason: Wes Anderson, the idiosyncratic writer-director behind such charmers as “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
If you liked those, you’ll love “Grand Budapest” – and yes, it really does star all those people.
Though the movie actually operates on four levels (a story within a story within a story within a story), “Grand Budapest Hotel” is set largely in the 1930s, in the mythical European country of Zubrowka.
Fiennes plays M. Gustave, the attentive, sophisticated and widely loved concierge at the title establishment. While the fast-moving storyline includes jailbreak, war, murder, young love, baking, monks, trains, writing and reminiscence, the film centers on Gustave’s inheritance of a priceless painting – and efforts by the previous owner’s family to retrieve it, mostly by insisting that Gustave murdered the woman who left it to him.
But as usual with Anderson, the film’s principal appeal is its astonishing visual scheme: brilliant colors, meticulous sets, lavish costumes – all rendered with craftsman-like camerawork and composition. In Anderson films, every frame is a painting – and in this regard, “Grand Budapest Hotel” may be his finest work.
Rather than the hundreds of CGI workers found in many modern movies, the closing credits honor entire departments devoted to costuming, set decoration, properties, miniatures and stop-motion animation.
Here’s hoping these names are remembered come Oscar time next year.
The script is crafted with similar care, featuring lines of a sort you just won’t find in most other films:
“There are glimmers of civilization left in the remnant of this barbaric slaughterhouse once known as humanity.”
“Whence came these two radiant brothers as they crossed the stratosphere of our celestial window?”
And you have to love a script that makes effective use of words like “codicil,” “elucidate” and “guttersnipe.”
The cast is solid, with most appearing briefly and against type (get ready for Bill Murray in a handlebar mustache!).
Abraham – so often the bad guy in films like “Amadeus” and “Scarface” – really stands out, radiating irresistible warmth and vitality.
Alexandre Desplat’s score is also a wonder, loaded with such unusual instruments as the zither, cimbalom and alpenhorn, plus more balalaikas than you’ve ever heard in one place.
The film’s only downside is that the strong language and frank sexuality seem out of place in its fairytale-like 1930s milieu – as do the occasional outbursts of violence. Anderson’s otherworldly visuals create such ironic detachment that the murder and mutilation come across as mildly amusing, though I doubt this was his intent.
The director’s quirky, understated feel is not for everyone; but in a cinematic landscape riddled with sequels, raunchy humor and brainless rip-offs, he truly is one of a kind.
3 1/2 stars out of 4.
Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence.