It’s crisp. It’s cohesive. It triggered cravings for my German grandmother’s petit fours like I haven’t experienced since I was eight years old. Reasonable minds can disagree as to whether this is writer/director Wes Anderson’s best movie, but "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is, without doubt, his best work to date.
Here his practiced eye becomes one with the landscape, one with the room. Where he’s been honing his unique, oft-termed quirky perspective for years, here he achieves such precision that that perspective actually reaches out and pull us in. We’re not watching it anymore, we’re being swept into it.
Today we meet Gustave H., beloved head concierge of the renowned Grand Budapest Hotel, a glorious jewel of 1930’s hospitality nestled into the mountains of a fictional European country. Gustave loves his his work, loves his staff, loves his hotel… and loves his patrons.
Some would argue the last too well, and when one so enamored favors him in her will, the disgruntled family resort to unsavory methods of resolving the matter. Thus commences the fortune and frame-up of Gustave and his flight and friendship with faithful protégé, Zero the Lobby Boy.
Also commences the hilarious parade of the ever-expanding Anderson Alumni Association. Amid the familiar cadence of dialogue and visuals, we’re treated at regular intervals to the appearance of favorites old and new, from veterans Owen Wilson and Bill Murray to recent additions Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton. (Anderson has been attracting a talent following in the tradition of Woody Allen in recent years, with some actual overlap.)
It’s not all sweet confections and doting hospitality however; "Grand Budapest" includes several moments of real, if fleeting, darkness, instilling in us just enough concern to prevent descent into mere madcap romp. We delight as our heroes make off with a priceless painting, but truly fear for them and their beloveds after seeing what befell poor ~ well… we won’t go there now.
Still, such cadence and flair are now-standard Anderson fare. What sets "Grand Budapest" apart are three driving forces that take hold and don’t let go, hours and even days after the viewing.
First is Anderson’s heightened command of what he places onscreen and how he does it. In addition to his customary style of symmetry, color palette, and character expression, he’s elevated his game of production design to an entirely new level. There are a million things to explore in every single shot, every single shot containing just exactly, precisely what he conceives, in exactly, precisely its proper place. New contrasts dazzle, as the pastel-hued retreat finds itself dominated, almost violated, by the seething figure of Adrien Brody in head-to-toe jet black storming down its halls.
Pair this with exceptional editing by Barney Pilling (again unmistakably conceived by Anderson himself), and the result is astonishing. "Grand Budapest" moves often break-neck and always non-stop, maintaining what in lesser hands would be a frenetic, unmanageable pace. Though we stride lobbies and dig holes and ride trains and climb mountains and toboggan headlong back down, "Grand Budapest" never once leaves us short of breath or makes us struggle to keep up. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in over 2800 titles to date.
Second is the superb performance of Ralph Fiennes, himself largely responsible for said well-modulated nonstop pacing. His Gustave issues long lists of complex directives such as to remind one of Miranda Priestley’s benevolent brother, remaining always calm in the face of chaos until every so often he just drops the effort and takes a break. Gustave is at once exactly as appearing and deeply complex, and Fiennes carries all the necessary simplicity and depth to make him work.
Finally we have the extraordinary soundtrack and score, itself a character without which the film would fail. It carries us along, it lifts us up, it keeps us breathing, it rounds out the characters, is steers the scenes without trying to steer us. Honestly, it’s time composer Alexandre Desplat received more than a nod when the weather turns warm. He won a BAFTA for "The King’s Speech", and a Golden Globe for one of the films I love well enough to actually have to dust ("The Painted Veil" ~ oh look, there’s Edward Norton), but this consistent Academy oversight is becoming ridiculous.
I hypothesize that it’s a little harder for him than, say, Hans Zimmer to accumulate recognition, given that he creates something utterly new with every project. I use the word “Zimmerian” on a regular basis (indeed, I carry four of his scores on my iPod, with me at all times); in contrast, one often doesn't recognize the presence of Desplat without a visual credit. It’s recognizable more by its excellence than its arrangement. Here he carries "Grand Budapest" along with sweeping control, and one can be sure I’ll be bringing this subject up again come springtime.
You don’t need me to tell you see "Grand Budapest" if you’re already a fan; that’s a given. But if you’ve never experience Anderson for some unfathomable reason, then this is the time to make the change (and Houstonians, you especially must, he’s one of our treasures). One can easily feel deep affection for many in Anderson’s varied body of work, but for pure filmmaking prowess and filmgoing fun, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is not to be missed.
Story: The fanciful recounting of the adventures of a renowned European WWII-era concierge and his faithful protégé, caught up in murder, mayhem, and the pursuit of excellence.
Genre: Action/Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Waris Ahluwalia, Mathieu Amalric, Bob Balaban, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Fisher Stevens, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Running time: 99 minutes
Houston release date: March 14, 2014
Tickets: Check Fandango, IMDb, or your local listings
Screened Mar 11th 2014 at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX