Wes Anderson’s latest film is an all-star affair. The sheer amount of talent that make up the cast for The Grand Budapest Hotel is usually reserved for mega-productions like the Harry Potter franchise. Indeed, Lord Voldemort himself, Ralph Fiennes plays the lead character Gustave H, an entertainer extraordinaire with a penchant for rich, elderly blondes . It is my opinion that this is one of his greatest performances to date. Alongside Fiennes there are Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel (the latter three all starring in Anderson’s previous feature; Moonrise Kingdom in 2012). Joining the entourage are Tony Revolori and Saorise Ronan amoungst other familiar faces including Lea Seydoux, Mathieu Amalric, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson.
This time Anderson brings another make-believe world to life with his own unique, highly-stylised method of story telling. Fans of his films will further enjoy the attention to every detail that Anderson pours into each shot and camera move. Everything here is timed to perfection, framed perfectly and decorated to cater for every nuance of the director’s vision. Viewing the much anticipated ‘Grand Budapest’, I felt that I was watching the work of a director (some may say auteur) at the very peak of his powers. The ensemble cast play their scenes as if they were sharing a stage rather than a screen and each character has reams of hilarious and punchy dialogue to deliver throughout. The pace of the film is timed to perfection considering the tableaux of principle characters, the complexity of the story-world and the events that unfurl within it. Presented in three different aspect ratios (each one representing a change in time period), The Grand Budapest Hotel is a both a visual feast and a jolly good laugh, to boot!
Above all, it is a comedy but The Grand Budapest Hotel is also an adventure story, a love story, a rites of passage story, a war story and a prison break story. It is a condensed epic, co-written by Anderson and Hugo Guinness and inspired by the works of (but not based on any specific tale) Austrian novelist and playwright, Stefan Zweig. Within the film we are transported to the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, located in the far reaches of Eastern Europe. Jude Law plays a younger version of Tom Wilkinson’s character (The Author) who visits the famed hotel in the 1960’s, long after it has seen it’s glory days. Here he is wined and dined by the hotel’s owner and regaled with the story of how Mr. Moustafa first came to the Grand Budapest as a youth and was trained as a lobby boy.
F. Murray Abraham plays the ageing hotel owner, but it is newcomer Tony Revolori who portrays the young lobby boy, Zero. Through his eyes we see the Grand Budapest in a more successful and affluent bi-gone era, albeit one which is on the cusp of war. We also meet the famed Concierge and Hotel Manager, M. Gustave, who takes the young Zero under his wing creating a strong brotherly-bond between the two characters as they stumble from one misadventure to another.
Zero becomes embroiled in the misfortunes of his mentor and is entwined in a series of escapades in aid of the infamous Gustave. He is helped by his true love, Agatha played by Saoirse Ronan. Without wishing to divulge the entire plot, I will say that the narrative moves along very nicely and that this is perhaps the most effortlessly graceful of all Anderson’s films. The action is comedic and impressively treated. Even the cartoonish sled chase through the mountains has an agreeable amount of verisimilitude.
The principle characters fight over a bequeathed painting known as Boy With Apple. All the usual Anderson traits are present down to the last minute detail, such as the painting itself which is completely made-up and unique to the film although presented as if it were a famous classic of our own real world. The sets, costumes and overall production value are incredibly well designed and realised, creating a world that resembles a Europe of old, when empires clashed and a much more modern era was creeping ever closer, bringing with it chaos and displacement.
The entire cast shine in an array of intriguing parts that are all memorable in their own right. Harvey Keitel plays super-cool inmate Ludwig, the man with the plan for a daring escape attempt. Others also provide excellent support, particularly Adrien Brody and his henchman played by Willem Dafoe along with Jeff Goldblum as Deputy Kovacs.
The Grand Budapest will delight fans of Wes Anderson’s previous films and may even gain him a few new ones. Seeing it in all its glory on the big screen was fantastic and well worth the visit to the cinema. A rare thing, these days.
Reviewed by Greg Fisher