Sprawling epic is not a term that you would naturally think of when you consider the filmography of Wes Anderson, but with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Anderson orchestrates his most epic film to date while maintaining his signature flair. Funny, engaging, beautifully crafted and with one of the finest performances in an Anderson film to date, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” immediately deserves a spot in the upper echelon of Anderson’s acclaimed work.
“Grand Budapest” tells the story of Gustave H., head concierge at the hotel, and his protégé Zero. When a regular visitor of the hotel is murdered and leaves a valuable painting to Gustave it sets off a chain of events that pit him against the decease’s son in a wicked scheme.
This is one of the more elaborate plots that Anderson has ever undertaken featuring a large interweaving set of characters that play out a mystery. That is the film’s most recognizable hiccup, however. All the twists and turns that serve this one particular plot take up the vast majority of the movie but are wrapped up a little to neatly in the end. Not to be mistaken, the ride is enjoyable and the overall result satisfactory, but for all that came before it a bigger finale was expected and not delivered.
However, that was not the real point of “Grand Budapest.” No, the plot is secondary to the character of Gustave H. and the fantastic performance from Ralph Fiennes. Gustave is the definition of high class and service, a lavish ambassador to an age long gone, for all that have the pleasure of staying in his hotel – particularly elderly ladies. It is all an act though, as the man simply plays a part he desperately wants to be, but can’t help but succumb to outbursts and moments of weakness.
Fiennes is practically perfect as Gustave. He is the epitome of dignity, with an eloquent way with his words that quickly turn sharp and unhinged as he angrily spits out barbs and curses in moments of frustration. We are not used to seeing Fiennes in a comedic role, but he proves exceedingly adept at it, hitting each note just right. Hopefully Anderson has found another reliable new entry to his troupe of players.
Speaking of which, nearly all of Anderson’s most reliable actors are present in “The Grand Budapest.” Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and more return to work with this auteur, though most are relegated to brief, but memorable cameos.
The standout-supporting role clearly goes to Willem Dafoe’s menacing bodyguard, who rarely speaks but is an appropriate foil to Fiennes’ Gustave in that way. One a sophisticated, silver tongued, socialite, the other a silent, straightforward savage. Two ends of the spectrum that the film also depicts in the settings of the hotel and the pending war that goes about outside of it.
Consistent with his prior works, the craftsmanship of Anderson’s world is impeccable and stunning. The hotel is otherworldly, but he doesn’t stop there. For the first time in one of his live-action films he extends his unique design to the outside world. His past films saw his quirky characters in real world settings, “Grand Budapest” uses painted backdrops and personal touches to the outside world, making it all seem fitted together rather than the character’s usual juxtaposition.
It goes without saying, but again Anderson’s writing was top notch. His directing shows a continuation and growth in his own-patented style. Because of that style, however, Anderson has become a bit of a polarizing director. You either love him or you hate him – I clearly fall in the former category. Hopefully “The Grand Budapest” can at least elicit respect from Anderson detractor’s for its scope and level of craftsmanship, but it is unlikely to cause a dramatic shift in opinion on the director’s larger body of work.
In the end, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a hilarious ride, but it’s message of wanting to live in a place long gone, both the struggles and joys of that, gives it a greater weight and meaning. It is one of Wes Anderson’s best and easily one of the best in the early months of 2014.