As always, Fantastic Fest 2013 is a bundle of shocking film surprises and a few cinematic duds. Only on its third day, Fantastic Fest has presented audiences with some of the best, worst, and most controversial films of the year. After assiduously avoiding the opening night film (sorry, just couldn't bring myself to sit through Robert Rodriguez's Machete sequel, Machete Kills), I happened upon the thrilling musical gem, Grand Piano.
Starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack, Grand Piano is a mystery thriller with an elegant twist. It's an incredible piece of cinema, if not just for the story and camera direction, but for what it pulls off. Filmed almost entirely in one environment, it is just as thrilling as an action movie spanning a dynamic city scape and midnight rooftops.
Wood's character, Tom Selznick, is one of the most talented classical pianists in the world. He's getting a chance to redeem himself after a famous concert flub in which he froze up and went into "retirement" five years ago. Now is his chance to prove he can play the "unplayable" piano piece 'La Cinquette', and not only is his reputation on the line, but he will be performing the concert on the gorgeous grand piano of his famous and reclusive mentor, who died with a massive fortune mysteriously unaccounted for.
As soon as Tom begins playing at the monstrously large grand piano, he notices notes written on his sheet music, and suddenly he is swept up in a deadly game while he must continue to play a flawless performance.
The story might sound implausible, and it kind of is. That's what makes Grand Piano so great. It is a viable thriller, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. There is an inherent silliness in the set-up, and some of the leaps the audience has to take as far as believability (texting while playing a classic piano concert is certainly a stretch) are dealt with using a subtle humor. Almost as if the filmmakers were presenting their thrilling mystery with a wink and a nod to the audience. And this silliness in no way takes away from the film, but instead ties all the disparate elements together in a cohesive whole.
Director Eugenio Mira does an excellent job of creating tension throughout the movie, a movie shot primarily at a grand piano. The music adds another dimension to the film, as Tom plays his classic piano movements they are a part of the story, but also the musical backdrop for the film, thus playing a dual-role and further pulling the story and setting together.
The grand piano should get a special notice, as it plays as large a part/character as any of the actors. Not only is it a key element in the story, but the film opens up with a shot of it being moved out of storage and builds an almost ominous tension around it, giving it a weight somewhat mysterious until the plot is unfurled.
Grand Piano has been picked up for distribution, so plan on seeing it released in theaters sometime next year (seems a long time to wait, but release dates sometimes change). When you finally have the chance, don't miss the opportunity to see it!