Monday, 10 March 2014

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

On paper this film has everything you could ever want: a prison break, a ski chase, a murder mystery, and so much more. But all that is not what makes ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ the marvellous film that it is, that credit firmly belongs to Wes Anderson and his fiercely unique direction. Film is a director’s medium for sure, but not every director makes his mark on cinema. Here Wes Anderson proves, once again, that there is nobody in the industry like him, and that only he could have made this wonderful film.

Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the renowned concierge of the Grand Budapest hotel, must go on the run when he is accused of the murder of an elderly guest of the hotel. Helping him to clear his name is his new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) who firmly believes in both the institution of the Grand Budapest, and in Gustave himself.

Wes Anderson’s films are known for their large ensembles filled with some of the best actors on the planet, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is no different as it boasts a staggering array of fascinating and oddball characters for the cast to work with, but chief amongst them is the lead character of Gustave, brought so brilliantly to life by Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is utterly terrific in the role as he smartly portrays what is actually quite an unlikable character (especially when you take a moment to consider what he says and does in most of the story) with a seductive charm fitting of the concierge of a world famous hotel. Fiennes is of course known as a world-class dramatic actor but I find that it is in his more comedic roles that he impresses me most, such as his character in ‘In Bruges’. In ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Fiennes has ample opportunity to flex his comedic muscles in a role that plays beautifully in his hands. I adored his performance as the pompous and charmingly candid Gustave, but, judging from the tremendous amount of fun he seems to be having onscreen, I think Fiennes himself may have enjoyed it even more than I.

Ralph Fiennes' performance as Gustave H. is the heart and soul of the film.

Gustave H. is not the only captivating character in this film, not by a long way. Supporting him are some of the most diverse and eccentrically hilarious characters Wes Anderson has ever put on film. Characters like Edward Norton’s soft-spoken Inspector Henckels or Willem Dafoe’s sinister henchman Jopling give the film a comedic avenue that Gustave alone could not provide. Although many of the events of film are quite grim on paper, the reason they provide such superb comedic fodder is because everything in the film is played so completely and utterly silly that even when watching a horrifically violent death, you cannot repress the crippling laughter.

Anderson’s distinctive direction is difficult to describe in a brief summary but there’s just something about the warmth that he is able to infuse into his films that provides them with a level of nostalgia and intrigue that few other filmmakers can mange. Certainly Anderson’s cinematographer, and frequent collaborator, Robert Yeoman helps with the style as his photography is responsible for the beauty of what is captured on film including the stunningly picturesque vistas and the film’s ornate scenery. Another staple of a Wes Anderson film is his comedic style, a bone-dry sense of humour that has his characters tiptoe the line between surreal and broad comedy; this film has no better character for exemplifying this than Gustave himself whose pomposity occasionally gives way to a more honest and hilariously foul-mouthed outburst that contrasts with his gallant persona.

The cast of the film is eclectic but perfectly matched.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ inexplicably manages to retain an admirably heartfelt core to its story despite the obvious humour on offer. It has compelling and interesting things to say about subjects like loyalty, companionship, and even war, that bleak cloud that hung over Eastern Europe at the time in which the film is set. The excellent score by composer Alexandre Desplat provides a classic and vibrant accompaniment to the story that changes in tone and emotion in total synchronicity with the story.

There is so much careful artistry at work here that it’s difficult not to just stop and admire what Wes Anderson has achieved. Crafting a smart and genuinely funny comedy is difficult enough but imbuing that with genuine heart is quite the accomplishment. This film will never be the comedy that will appeal to a mass audience, but for me it was exactly what I was looking for. Therefore I can certainly see myself, much like Gustave’s loyal clientele, returning to check into ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ quite often in the years to come.

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