Director Wes Anderson is working once again in his sweet-spot, following what was one of the best films of 2012, Moonrise Kingdom. In his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (opening today), Anderson gives us another joyous, odd adventure to take part in, and its an effort that rivals the best work of his career.
It's surely his most confident effort. The Grand Budapest Hotel is really a story within a story, and is undeniably a Wes Anderson film. That may sound like stating the obvious, but there are few directors working today in which you can instantly identify their work by simply watching a few seconds of film. With his quick camera pans and tilts, use of wide lenses and his patented point-of-view shots, his work immediately differentiates itself from other modern films and filmmakers.
Tom Wilkinson is a man simply named "Author," who begins by regaling us with a story of a somewhat famous (and fictional) European hotel still in existence. We flashback to a younger version of Author, played by Jude Law and we meet the film's main character, the Grand Budapest Hotel itself. A mysterious man appears in the lobby, Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who then in turn has a story to tell the young Author. It's a story that sends us back even further in time, to Zero's humble beginnings as a lobby boy and the eccentric hotel concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
Young Zero (Tony Revolori) is taken under the wing of the larger-than-life concierge, a charismatic bisexual who romances older, rich women who occupy the hotel. It's worked out well for him in the past, as many of these ladies tend to leave him portions of their fortune in their wills.
One particular mistress, Madame D (Tilda Swinton, under a mask of make-up), kicks the bucket and leaves Gustave her most valuable possession, a painting called "Boy With Apple." This infuriates her son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his thug bodyguard, Jopling (Willem Dafoe) who set out to reclaim the painting. Meanwhile, it comes out that Madame D was actually murdered, and Gustave is pointed to as the culprit.
It's a soapy story existing in a film not too interested in plot. This is more of an experience, and it's a stunning one. From the sets to the costumes to the bouncy score, The Grand Budapest Hotel is hard to look away from. It's also quite funny too, in the usual Wes Anderson-quirky sort of way. Much of the comedy comes from unexpected exchanges between the characters, who burst out with profanities at just the right time, or from the repetitive jokes that are better to be seen than explained.
Anderson these days is working with a trusted troupe of actors, and several if not all of his tried-and-true performers make big and small appearances. Edward Norton is back as a bumbling German Captain, and cameos are made by Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson, amongst some other recognizable faces.
Although the middle of the film - involving a prison break-out - tends to drag a bit, it is nearly impossible not to enjoy yourself when you are watching a director and actors have this much fun on the screen. Ralph Fiennes has rarely been this mesmerizing, and that's saying quite a lot. You'll laugh and feel like you've just experienced something quite important, although you may not be sure why or how it all worked. That's the magic of what Wes has been able to do lately. His brave and original style doesn't always fit the material, but this is his second-straight film - following Moonrise Kingdom - that shows his love of cinema and his mastery of simple story-telling.
In case the point hasn't been made clear enough, The Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely worth checking into.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R
Starring : Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Joff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Tony Revolori
Inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig
Written & Directed by Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, Bottle Rocket)
Opens locally on Friday, March 21, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time