Running Time: 99 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
When Wes Anderson is on form, you’ll happily queue up for the ride on his visually stunning and whimsical yarns. Films such as The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) and Rushmore (1998) were all the perfect balance of comedy and drama with strong central performances from the likes of Gene Hackman, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman (two of which appear in cameo roles in his new ‘opus’). Fans of his work can sigh with relief to know that his latest offering not only has a wonderful lead actor but also is his most satisfying effort for years. Anyone that isn’t fond of his style is unlikely to find anything to their liking here.
After a brief introduction about our narrator and writer (played by Tom Wilkinson and in earlier years, Jude Law) and history of the Grand Budapest Hotel, the story focuses on the establishment’s concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his relationship with lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). When one of Gustave’s many geriatric female admirers (an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton) leaves a priceless painting to him in her will, her greedy and volatile son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) frames Gustave for her murder. When the concierge successfully breaks out of his prison cell in a daring and hilarious escape sequence, both he and Zero are pursued through the country by a determined policeman (Edward Norton) and Dmitri’s psychotic henchman (a toothsome Willem Defoe). Fortunately the duo are aided by the hotel’s solicitor (Jeff Goldlum), the circle of concierges, some monks and Zero’s sweetheart, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) as Gustave fights to clear his name.
Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s best film to date. It is entertaining, moving and beautiful to look at. As with his earlier offerings, the movie is dominated by the wonderful performance of the leading actor, Fiennes who revels in the pompous, flamboyant but kind hearted role. He shines and commands each and every scene that he is present and fortunately he is onscreen for the bulk of the running time. The only character/ thing that threatens to steal his thunder is the hotel itself. Its lavish and occasionally garish interiors, a cross between the Shining’s Overlook Hotel and Casino’s Tangiers, are a visual delight. It is almost a disappointment when the action moves from the establishment as the pace heats up by the third act.
The gags come so thick and fast that you’ll likely have to catch a second viewing to digest them all. Yet there is more than humour on offer here. One scene featuring Dafoe’s assassin pursuing Goldlum’s mild mannered solicitor is tense and gloriously horrific. Suspense is something that hasn’t featured in the director’s previous work but the whole sequence is expertly handled. The story culminates in a satisfying yet emotional finale. Once you book an evening at the Grand Budapest Hotel, you’ll never want your stay to end.