ByJohn Mountain, writer at
John Mountain

Directed by Eugenio Mira

Written by Damien Chazelle

I could take the low road and say that Grand Piano is Phone Booth set in the world of classical music. I wouldn’t be far from the truth-look up the synopsis for Phone Booth and you will agree that I am right on the money, give or take a plot point or two to suit the setting of the story. Alas, however, I cannot in good standing belittle Grand Piano by comparing it to Phone Booth. Phone Booth is, in my opinion, a hack film directed by a hack director, Joel Schumacher. Grand Piano is a masterful film that holds you tight in a grip of suspense and doesn’t let go until the screen fades to black and the end credits mercifully begin to roll.

Tom Selznick, the greatest concert pianist of his generation, is making his comeback after a five year absence. With his wife in attendance, an immense case of stage fright and the hauntings of a failure from years past, Tom sits down and begins to play. He plays beautifully as the orchestra accompanies his every note. Turning the pages of his sheet music he sees in bold red marker the words PLAY ONE WRONG NOTE AND YOU DIE. Thinking this to be a joke at first, Tom soon begins a communication with his antagonist and discovers that there is a high-powered rifle pointed at him and that if he does not do exactly what the gunman wants he will murder Tom, his wife and anyone else who tries to be a hero. For the next hour Tom is forced to play a deadly game as he struggles to summon help without the awareness of the gunman as he attempts to keep himself-and everyone else-alive.

If there had been anyone else in the role of Tom Selznick I might not have even given Grand Piano a chance. As Selznick, Elijah Wood gives the same hot-wired performance that he did in the remake of Maniac-close to the bone but also with a look that tells you that a simple ‘hello’ whispered in his ear would send him over the edge. As the gunman, John Cusack’s role is limited to mainly voice work. However, those of us who remember Cusack from the years of harmless teen comedies as harmless teen characters are apt to realize that voice carries a level of menace that can leave you grinding your teeth. This is a voice that knows it is more menacing to calmly say “I will kill you” than it is to shout “I will fucking kill you”.

There is ulterior motive from the gunman in Grand Piano. However, I didn’t feel it was as important as the deadly game that he plays with Tom, or vice versa. I’m also certain that if I were to re-watch the film I would find plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, but then again maybe not. All I know is that Grand Piano sat me on the edge and kept me teetering there for 90 minutes, something that I haven’t experienced in years. I don’t throw this word around very often, but Grand Piano may well be a masterpiece.


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