The Grand Budapest Hotel - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
WES Anderson may just have delivered his most accessible movie with The Grand Budapest Hotel, a rich, colourful, sometimes eccentric but mostly crowd-pleasing experience that’s well worth turning into a priority booking.
Boasting a star-studded cast and a playful sense of fun, Anderson’s eighth feature also has plenty to say for those willing to listen. It’s both a love letter to the writings of early 20th Century Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Zwieg and a bittersweet lament for the passing of an era as high standards (or the civilised world) are slowly eroded and replaced by new culture and the onset of war.
Set largely in the 1930s in a fictitious Eastern European country, the film essentially follows the fortunes of hotel concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) as he attempts to train new lobby boy and protégé Zero (Tony Revolori) in the ways of old.
An unashamed romancer of the hotel’s elderly guests, Gustave suddenly finds his liaisons turning dangerous when one of his favourites, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), dies suddenly and he is accused of her murder hot-tempered son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) – who is furious to discover that she has left her hotel to him.
With Dmitri and his brutal henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) on his trail, Gustave must act fast to ensure the hotel stays in the right hands but has his work cut out to keep one step ahead of the game, particularly given that he must also contend with a tenacious military officer (Edward Norton). Zero, meanwhile, has his own fledgling romance to distract him with fellow hotel worker Agatha (Saoirse Ronan).
The ensuing story is recounted to a writer (Jude Law) many years later by the older Zero (now played by F Murray Abraham).
Anderson imbues the ensuing film with many trademark elements – from quirky, sometimes offbeat humour to eccentric characters and a distinct visual style. But he also flirts with other genre conventions and, as a result, tosses in several virtuoso moments, including a hotel corridor shot reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining, a cable car shot that evokes memories of Where Eagles Dare, a prison escape sequence that combines absurdist comedy with surprising bursts of action, and spy thriller sequences to rival classic Bond (check out Dafoe’s villain) laced with the subversive comedy streak of Mike Myers.
The central dicotomy of the loss of the civilised world is also apparent in the script, with the prose often flitting from the eloquent, poetic and high brow to sudden bursts of profanity within the same monologue – and comically so.
Performance-wise, the film is a blast too. Fiennes is absolutely brilliant, displaying deft comedic touches, as Gustave and lending the film a mesmerising central presence. But there’s colourful support from the likes of Dafoe (similarly superb), Jeff Goldblum (as a lawyer, whose foot chase with Dafoe rates as another highlight), Harvey Keitel (as a bald inmate who becomes a key ally to Gustave) and Bill Murray (in a short but sweet extended cameo).
Indeed, there is so much joy to be had in seeing just how many high-profile cast members Anderson manages to incorporate that even some of the film’s more self-indulgent moments are easily forgiven. For every time the film threatens to derail itself, or lose momentum, Anderson delivers another doozy of a scene to ensure high standards are resumed.
And if the film perhaps lacks a strong emotional involvement (a shortcoming given the eventual direction of the story), then even that can be forgiven. As The Grand Budapest Hotel is, without doubt, one of Anderson’s most effortlessly enjoyable experiences.
Running time: 100mins
UK Release Date: March 7, 2014