Narrated by a lonely old man named Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) to a man simply known as The Author (Jude Law), The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts Zero’s time as a young man (Tony Revolore), working as an aspiring lobby boy under the tutelage of Grand Budapest’s devoted concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). When not attending the needs of the many hotel clientele, Gustave attends the “needs” of many aging, blonde (as he states, “’Cause they were.”) woman, most notably is the wealthy Madame D. (Tilda Swinton).
A month later, Gustave is informed of Madame D.’s mysterious death, and at her will reading is informed that he has inherited an extremely valuable painting of hers, which angers her diabolical son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody) and the menacing J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe). Matters are made much worse when Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton) arrests, of all people, Gustave for somehow being connected to the murder of Madame H.
Whether it’s Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, or more recently Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson has proven himself to be one of the most captivating storytellers in the film industry. When his weakest film, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, is nowhere near what he’s capable of, but still okay, that shows you his strength as a filmmaker.
Once again, Anderson returns with The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film that reunites him with practically everyone he’s ever worked and, more importantly, is sitting pretty up there with some other splendid company of his. Gorgeously shot with vivid imagery, Anderson places us inside another world of his with richly fascinating characters and fast-paced, witty dialogue. The plot’s heavy here in a blink and you’ll miss it sorta way. Anderson’s throwing a lot at us here, but nothing ever feels forced or unnecessary. Every storyline and character serves a purpose, all held together by one man: Gustave H.
Ralph Fiennes has always been a fantastic actor, but it wasn’t until I saw him in the wonderfully dark In Bruges that I realized he has a knack for comedy. As Monsieur Gustave H., Fiennes gives his best performance in years. It’s a breath of fresh air, after seeing him play villains for the most part these past few years, to see him play such a complex man who’s arrogant, obsessive yet has heart as well. Every aspect and emotion of this character, from humorous to heartfelt, is performed to perfection by Fiennes. It’s a performance I feel is deserving of Oscar consideration next year, but unfortunately may get overlooked since it’s still relatively early in the year.
Playing alongside Fiennes is newcomer Tony Revolori as the lobby boy Zero. Quiet yet quirky in his own way, Revolori’s Zero is a refugee who, as the film moves along, discloses certain details in his life to Gustave that reveal more and more layers of his character. It’s a understated yet strong performance that is all the more remarkable in that with very little, if any, film experience he’s going up against some heavy hitters in acting and doing well.
I could go on about the remainder of the cast, but it’d take me ’til next week to do. It’s a who’s who of talent that includes Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody (who has a hilarious intro), and Jason Schwartzman. Edward Norton brings a nice supporting turn as the police inspector determined to bring Gustave down, and Willem Dafoe delivers one of his darkest performances while hardly uttering a word. This is Willem Dafoe too we’re talking about, so to outdo the millions of other dark roles he’s played is high praise. What more can I say of Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, F. Murray Abraham, Saoirse Ronan (wonderful as Zero’s love interest), Harvey Keitel and Jeff Goldblum?
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that this is an extraordinary cast. If you couldn’t tell already.
Unlike Anderson’s previous films, The Grand Budapest Hotel ventures into darker territory than he’s known for. While it’s not displayed in obvious forms, within the story, the rise of fascism is dealt with. The violence is also much more jarring than what we’ve seen from Anderson, most notably in a superbly shot series of stalking scenes between Dafoe and Goldblum that scream Hitchcock. Yet, the darker aspects of the film never once feel misplaced when blended with the ones that are more eccentrically humorous. It’s sharp humor that knows when to be thought-provoking and meaningful at just the right times. That’s what Anderson does best.
Anderson’s not a polarizing filmmaker by any means, but I understand that his style of storytelling isn’t for everyone. Some may find it frustrating that he leaves a certain plot element (I’ll refrain from mentioning it) open-ended, and I know the plot heaviness and dry humor isn’t for those looking to check their critics brain at the door. However, I myself couldn’t help but once again be immersed into another one of Anderson’s meticulously crafted worlds, inhabited by such diverse and interesting characters, with Gustave at the forefront of it all, magnificently performed by Ralph Fiennes. It may not be Anderson’s best film, but it’s the best I’ve seen from him since The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore and the best I’ve seen in 2014 so far.
I give The Grand Budapest Hotel an A+ (★★★★).