Looking at any particular director’s filmography, their style and signature is something easily identifiable from one film to the next. The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s signature from the opening frame to the roll of the credits. Anderson is unlike any director working today – playing in his sandbox of unique ideas that create worlds that we didn’t know we needed until his vision mapped it out. From the surrealistic set design to the charming characters and subtle use of situational humor, The Grand Budapest Hotel has all the elements one would expect a Wes Anderson film to feature. On top of an impressive ensemble cast that each have their moment in the script written by Anderson and Hugo Guinness.
Leading the way in this film is Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) the Grand Budapest’s enigmatic concierge. But how we get to his leading role in this story starts with a flashback to a flashback to yet another flashback starting with a young girl looking at a bust of a renowned writer, who in the first flashback is known simply as Author (Tom Wilkinson). The Grand Budapest Hotel is the Author’s most praised book. The second flashback shows us a younger version of the Author, played by Jude Law who meets the owner of the hotel Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). These series of flashbacks not only add to the mythology of this retelling of a rag to riches story but most of it happens in the span of a few minutes – a look away and you’ll miss the lavishly setup exposition.
The younger version of Zero (Tony Revolori) (newcomer) is the new lobby boy at the Grand Budapest taken under the mentorship of Gustave. Gustave is everything a concierge should be, calm under extreme amounts pressure to make his guests feel comfortable and stress free – anticipating the guests needs before they even know they need them. That even includes acting as a gigolo to some of the wealthiest of patrons whom Gustave is most genuine towards.
When one of Gustave’s eldest affairs Madame D (Tilda Swinton), a wealthy dowager suddenly dies after her last visit, Gustave is left a priceless painting titled Boy with Apple from the dowager’s codicil.
The plot is easy enough to follow with how much is going on in each scene. The pacing reflects that with how the film is cut – sometimes speeding through an exchange or slowing down to let the drama play out in typical Anderson fashion. Add to the that the beautifully extravagant color palette Anderson uses that highlights all lighter, more vibrant colors. Color plays a major part in The Grand Budapest Hotel placing emphasis on the reimagined historical time-period we are getting a first-class view into.
Visually, The Grand Budapest Hotel is aesthetically pleasing on the eye with changing aspect ratio’s that transport you to a different era. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman and Anderson pay homage to a time in film that paved the way for how films are shot today. The sped-up toboggin chase sequence, the different angles and still shots that look grand and spectacle in the scope of things all create a rich world centered around this group of weird yet familiar characters.
Anderson’s characters are at the forefront here with the performances to back them up. Ralph Fiennes is an absolute delight whenever he’s on screen. His humor in the film is welcomed to his range as an actor who mostly focuses on more dramatic roles. Charming and polite, Fiennes looks to be having a blast with Gustave even throwing in the occasional swear word outburst while still giving the appearance of a calm yogi. Newcomer Revolori and Fiennes have an energetic connection through their chemistry making their budding friendship standout among the ensemble.
Rounding out the ensemble cast is (Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux & Owen Wilson). Even with the smallest of cameos, every supporting actor/actress is given some type of importance in their roles – no part is undervalued in Anderson’s film. Emphasis in the story is placed more on Brody and Dafoe’s villainous, vein characters who are on the manhunt for Gustave after Gustave and Zero lift the painting for safekeeping. Dafoe especially is haunting on his performance as a deranged killer who isn’t so subtle in his approach for chasing down the thieves.
Wes Anderson films aren’t for everyone, certainly some may see them as shallow and pretentious while showing off a specific style that may not add to the glamour that Hollywood presents. His style is more comfort based not straying too far off the beaten path but within his sandbox, lies a world of possibilities of different stories to be told. Anderson can absolutely draw you in with the elegance and visual nostalgia.
The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly looks shiny on the surface but has a deeper meaning beyond first glace. Focusing on the importance of loyalty and friendship, Anderson pays his respects to films of Hollywood past and films of the world that most of us would never think to explore. The jailbreak scene reminds me of The Shawshank Redemption while the snowcapped chase sequence looks like something Chaplin would put in his films relying on the slapstick to make the chase more relaxed and less tense. The tension is still there – built up in the dialogue and music from composer Alexandre Desplat. The Grand Budapest Hotel thrives in its unfamiliarity with the various genres that are more niche yet feel comforting in execution.
Written By: Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Directed By: Wes Anderson
Music By: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson & Tony Revolori
Distributed By: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release Date: February 6, 2014 (Germany), March 7, 2014 (Domestic)
Running Time: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
My Score: 4.5 out of 5