Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence
Cast (alphabetically): F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson
Written By: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness (inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig)
Directed By: Wes Anderson
Director Wes Anderson exhibits a visual style so unique that you can immediately spot one of his films based solely on its appearance. There are only a handful of other auteurs whose work is easily identifiable based on such things as cinematography, camera movements and production design – a few being Spielberg, Scorsese and Tarantino. Anderson isn’t quite on the same level as those masterful directors – however his skills are damn impressive in their own right. The Grand Budapest Hotel just might be the most outlandishly stylish and eccentric film that the filmmaker has crafted to date. Though Anderson’s insistence on style over substance does some disservice to his storytelling – this is yet another witty, weird and wildly original entry in the director’s body of work.
Set in 1932 against the backdrop of Eastern Europe and in between World Wars I & II, the film focuses on Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Gustave moonlights as something of a con man – bedding the elderly, wealthy female guests of his establishment. His current conquest, 84-year-old Madame D. (Tilda Swinton in old age makeup), turns up murdered and the authorities believe Gustave to be guilty. In her will, Madame D. has bestowed her beloved Gustave with a priceless Renaissance painting entitled “Boy with Apple”. This doesn’t sit well with her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) who believes he should be heir to the family fortune. Along with his young lobby boy and trusted ally Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), Gustave will try to prove his innocence and find the real killer. In the meantime, many more will turn up dead at the hands of Dmitri’s henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) in an effort to track down “Boy with Apple”.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You see, this story is being told to a young writer (Jude Law) by an elder Zero (F. Murray Abraham) in 1968. Yet the story of the young writer hearing Zero’s story is being told to us by the now older writer (Tom Wilkinson) in 1985. How he goes from looking like Jude Law to Tom Wilkinson in only 17 years is another story altogether. The time shifts aren’t as intricate as they sound – they’re just a clever formatting device and Anderson’s way of cheekily toying with cinematic structuring.
However, the crux of the screentime does take place in 1932 with much of the action playing homage to films of that bygone era. There’s a ludicrous prison escape scene and a chase down a ski slope – both befitting of the Marx Brothers. The film is also a farcical whodunit – somewhat a parody of Agatha Christie novels. Peculiarly though, the dialogue is often crude and coarse, not something that would be featured in an old-fashioned comedy.
Having portrayed the villain in Schindler’s List and the hero in The English Patient – Ralph Fiennes certainly isn’t known for his comedic chops, so it’s a splendid surprise that he turns out to be such a gifted comic actor. It was rumored that Johnny Depp had been cast as Gustave but later dropped out and you can certainly see how Depp would have been a perfect fit for the part – but in a testament to Fiennes’ performance – it’s hard to image anyone (even Depp) doing a better job with the role.
There’s a chockfull of supporting roles and cameo’s from Anderson’s regulars and it’s a joy to see actors such as Bill Murray and Owen Wilson pop up in minor roles that would have otherwise gone to unknown bit players. In slightly larger roles, Edward Norton and Jeff Goldblum are also notable standouts.
Anderson’s best film remains The Royal Tenenbuams (a gem which I strongly doubt he’ll ever be able to top), but it’s hard to imagine that admirers of the writer/director won’t be more than satisfied with his new outing. In a Hollywood wasteland of mediocrity and unoriginality, here’s a unique moviegoing experience from an exceptional director with a singular vision. For your cinematic pleasure, check in and enjoy your stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel.