Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric
Director: Wes Anderson
Few modern filmmakers can claim to leave as distinct a stamp on their work as Wes Anderson. His cinematic style and visual language is so unique, you recognize it just moments into a film: the brightly colored dollhouse aesthetic of his sets, his customary quirky characters, those snappily choreographed set-pieces. His movies make no pretence of existing anywhere other than in a world of their own.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson's eighth feature, is his best since...well, his last film, Moonrise Kingdom. Narrated in flashback, it introduces us to Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), concierge at a legendary hotel, perched atop a mountain in a fictional European country on the brink of war. Gustave, famed as much for his attention to detail as his attention to the sexual desires of the hotel's many ageing female patrons, is in the process of training a lobby boy named Zero (an excellent Tony Revolori), who will go on to become his best friend and accomplice.
When one of the hotel's richest regulars (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) passes away, she leaves a priceless painting to Gustave, which infuriates her son (Adrien Brody), who accuses him of murdering her. Pretty soon Gustave is on the run from Nazi officers (led by Edward Norton) and a psychopath killer (Willem Dafoe). It's his loyal sidekick Zero who is by Gustave's side as he dashes across Europe, breaks out of prison, appeals to the secret brotherhood of hotel employees, and tries every trick in the book to clear his name.
Repeatedly accused of favoring style over substance, Anderson crafts another richly realized world in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but one that's served by a perfectly satisfying plot. There is theft, murder, imprisonment, thrilling chases, and absurd jailbreaks in this layered story, and the list of actors who participate in this tomfoolery reads like a who's-who of Hollywood. Bill Murray, Jude Law, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, and Jason Schwartzman all show up for small parts and cameos, but it's Ralph Fiennes who steals the show with a superb, delicious performance that taps into his underutilized comic skills. In some of the film's funniest moments, Gustave explodes into a burst of profanities when he's at his wit's end, demolishing the refined, genteel façade that he's so painstakingly constructed.
The film itself is a rollercoaster of screwball comedy, deftly puppeteered by a filmmaker in complete control of his tools. One of the little gems he delivers here is an eye-popping mountaintop snow-chase sequence that'll have you cheering from your seat. But the film is as much a celebration of a bygone era, and Anderson gives us loving nostalgia-soaked montages and impressions of 1930s Europe. The tender friendship between Gustave and Zero gives the film an emotional core that's both refreshing and surprising in Anderson's work.
Whimsical, busy, and irresistibly charming, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an absolute must-watch. I'm going with four out of five. Check in immediately!
Rating: 4 / 5
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