Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori & Adrien Brody.
I have to admit I was souring on Wes Anderson for a while there. In that something seemed slightly off with The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited, almost as if Anderson’s incredibly specific methods had ran out of steam. I felt maybe that once the immediate effects of being wowed by his unique style and tone had worn off, perhaps a slight lack of substance in Anderson’s work was being exposed. But The Grand Budapest Hotel continues a sterling return to form, on the back of The Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, and the secret to it has been to slightly re-align his patented balance of emo and ironic madcap adventure in favour of the latter. It’s still artistic in all the old familiar places, but his films have made a glorious return to being fun.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that belies the expectations of its title. When you hear it, you’re probably expecting a relatively dour three hour piece about fancy clothes, minimal movement and bountiful silent stares in which you can apply any explanation you wish and still be wrong about their true meaning. Instead you get a film that includes a ski chase, a prison break, a murder mystery, an assassin with fangs straight out of a 70’s James Bond movie and a healthy sense of humour. The film plays as a caper movie from the 30’s, with enough anachronistic irony thrown in to keep the hipsters happy.
The lead role of hotel concierge M. Gustave is an enormous gift to Ralph Fiennes. He annihilates the various monologues and Andersonian turns of phrase he is given, and delivers a performance that it is hard to imagine being topped in 2014, even at this early stage. I’ve always felt that Anderson films work better when they have someone who doesn’t really fit his model at their centre, someone to breathe life into his carefully crafted deadpan world. Gene Hackman performed this function fantastically well in The Royal Tenenbaums, for instance, a beacon of charm amidst all the motionlessness around him, and gave the tone a catalyst to bounce off.
The same thing happens here with Fiennes. He lights up the colourful mumblecore world with an enormous amount of charisma and enthusiasm, bouncing off the intentionally expressionless Revolori fantastically well. The other actors, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe and many more, are more of the piece, allowing the lead to indisputably dominate proceedings. Revolori is actually quite good in his largely wordless assistant role, taking advantage of the few moments he gets to do more effectively, and has some good scenes with Saoirse Ronan, who herself is perhaps a little wasted. Adrien Brody has some fun as Madame D’s twisted heir, and Dafoe is built to play psychopathic assassins, but by and large the supporting cast, despite its list of stellar names, intentionally give performances below the radar.
Anderson should also get a lot of credit for a screenplay which balances a lot of delicate threads and occasionally switches tones in a way that could easily have imploded or at least led to some lag in places, but the film flows fantastically, segueing from one insane event to the next with a graceful invisibility. If I did have a couple of gripes, I’d say there are a couple of moments that perhaps feel like Anderson purely showing off. The film’s framing devices; for example, don’t really add anything to the film except as a reason to get a couple more famous faces in there. I’m not saying they are bad necessarily but if they were gone the film would not miss them in the slightest.
This is a truly minor complaint though, and I’d say that The Grand Budapest Hotel is perhaps the most purely enjoyable Anderson film to date, I wouldn’t call it the best, but its insanity is meticulously crafted and for the open mind this is as entertaining as any action movie you’re likely to see this year.