Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel Review

Lobbying For This Extraordinary Film
There are some directors who have such a presence in their projects that it's impossible to imagine the stories they tell being brought to life by any other storyteller. Wes Anderson is easily one such director, and his 2014 effort The Grand Budapest Hotel (a film he takes sole directing and screenwriting credit for) may be the best showcase for why he's the kind of filmmaker so widely admired by cinema obsessives (that's me!) and casual moviegoers alike.

Anderson brings a visual style like nothing else to his movies, but in The Grand Budapest Hotel, depicting the world of M. Gustave and Zero brings that sort of modus operandi that Anderson thrives on to it's creative apex. The titular location is depicted as a flourishing spot full of the kind of grandiose touches that an eccentric fellow like M. Gustave would find nothing short of delightful. Seeing this sort of thriving environment makes the contrast between the hotel in that bygone era and in 1969 (a year where the hotel is beginning to be run down) only reinforces how effective Anderson's iconic approach to visuals has been in strengthening the characters and their worlds.

That may be what impresses me most about Anderson; he never lets his adoration for the quirky overwhelm his characters and their plights. In fact, Grand Budapest Hotel has some simply extraordinary characters that manage to more than match the films luscious colors and sets in terms of quality! The stories primary protagonist, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), has a peculiar personality, with unconventional habits like an affection for strongly scented cologne and poetry providing excellent fodder for humor in the movie, especially whenever he's interacting with his trusty lobby-boy Zero (Tony Revolori).

However, such aberrant aspects of M. Gustave's character don't hinder him from having any flashes of depth. In fact, the screenplay smartly gives him have numerous moments to have small friendly interactions and moments with Zero (M. Gustave is nothing, if not polite to a fault) that makes their friendship feel all the more believable. It does help, of course, that Ralph Fiennes portrays the character, and he just nails this role. It's a flawless performance that has no problem with reinforcing the nuance and charm that makes M. Gustave such a memorable person.

Speaking of things being memorable, I was surprised on rewatching Grand Budapest Hotel (my first viewing of the feature since it's theatrical release last Spring) to be reminded of how well the film handles juggling a variety of tones in it's 99 minute runtime. The plot manages to incorporate elements from well crafted horror, chase and farce movies without ever making the incorporation of such a wide variety of tones feel jarring. They all mesh well as a cohesive whole while having their individual achievements, with the best example of this being in a sequence where Jeff Goldblum's character is stalked in a museum. Here, lighting and pacing are utilized masterfully to create a terrifyingly suspenseful atmosphere of dread that heightens the danger of the films antagonists.

That level of thoughtfulness is on constant display within The Grand Budapest Hotel, one of 2014's best movies that somehow accomplishes being a introspective look at the past, a reminder of how important our connections to other human beings is and the movie where Ralph Fiennes chases Willem Dafoe down a snowy mountaintop. As you can likely tell, so much happens in this movie, but it's to Wes Anderson's credit that those large amount of elements don't provide an overstuffed affair, but rather, contribute to a feature that's as extraordinary as the painting Boy With Apple. 

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