I cannot say with certainty what it was about The Grand Budapest Hotel that caught my interests first. Was it the enormous cast of regonizable acting legends and a few newcomers, or was it Wes Anderson‘s skillful channeling of shots and colors? I’m going to be lazy and say it was both.
The Grand Budapest Hotel does indeed have lots to offer, not the least of which has to do with all the names on the poster. This being a Wes Anderson picture, Bill Murray is of course obligated to appear, but his co-stars compose one of the most impressive and, most importantly, likable character casts I’ve seen in any film, directed by Anderson or otherwise (unlike, say, Movie 43).
The film’s plot is read by Léa Seydoux, who gets her hands on a journal written in 1985 by an elderly scribe known simply as The Author (Tom Wilkinson). The Old Author used to be a Young Writer played by Jude Law, and his journal retells his visit to a hotel in the land of Zubrowska, the “Grand Budapest”, in 1968, which ultimately ended with him making the acquaintance of its owner – a somber, bearded gentleman played by F. Murray Abraham in the first role I’ve seen from him in ages. The man instantly befriends YW and starts telling him a tale of a time when he was just a lobby boy at the hotel, working for Sir Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), an extraordinary concierge who changed his entire life. This is where we make another jump back in time to 1932.
The lobby boy is named Zero Mustafa and is played by newbie Tony Revolori. Zubrowska is on the brink of war but Gustave has other things to worry about. Old, wealthy people come from near and far to the Grand Budapest, the women specifically coming for sexual pleasures courtesy of Gustave. The one he seems to love most, a countess named Madame Desgoffe-und-Taxis (played by Tilda Swinton under quite a bit of makeup), is eventually found murdered, making the possibility of war all the more certain, and her will states that Gustave is to inherit her valuable painting “Boy With Apple”. Her family, particularly her nasty son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), is enraged by this and suspect that Gustave is Madame D’s killer. Eventually running off with Zero under his wing, Gustave soon finds himself pursued by violent hitman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe), and a military police force led by none other than the great Edward Norton. Excitement ensues.
In addition to the characters I’ve mentioned, there’s Saoirse Ronan (miles better here than in The Host) as Zero’s girlfriend Agatha, Jeff Goldblum of all people as a mysterious lawyer named Kovacs, the aforementioned Murray as one of Gustave’s eventual allies, Mathieu Amalric as a criminal turned monk named Serge X, and Harvey Keitel as a death row inmate with tattoos to spare. There’s also Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman both playing Grand Budapest receptionists, Wilson working as one in 1932 and Schwartzman in ’68.
I can think of no performance that doesn’t hit the mark and no character that doesn’t leave an impression or a fond memory. If the Academy Awards had a category, not just for Best Actor/Actress, but Best Cast In General, then surely the glorious ensemble of Grand Budapest Hotel would be nominated this year, if not awarded?
The movie is presented in three different aspect ratios. The scenes set in modern times are shown in full screen, the ones in 1968 are shown in widescreen, and the main storyline is shown in classic 4:3 format. Haven’t seen a modern film do something like that since The Artist and it’s certainly a charm.
But no matter the size of your screen, it is hard to find one single shot in this movie that isn’t absolute eye candy. From the gorgeously designed sets to the colorful scenery; from the beautifully tailored costumes to the way the camera moves to put it all on display; every second of it is just a joy to behold. The exterior shots of the titular hotel are particularly picturesque. I have sincere hopes that some of these images are framed and sold so that I may put them in my cottage at some point in the future, regardless of how many friends I’ll alienate. I also like that contraption that’s used to travel up to the mountain where Grand Budapest is located; a bizarre-looking elevator that travels via a diagonal track alongside the mountain wall. I want a ride!
The performances, like I said, are marvelous and the characters fit perfectly into Wes Anderson’s quirky, eccentric and darkly hilarious world. The world itself is, probably deliberately so, not one that makes a lot of sense. The nation of Zubrowska seems to be located in Europe, yet the accents of the characters range from American to British, with some occasional extras speaking French or German. It’s not a flaw of the movie, mind you. Instead it adds to the unique and fantastical nature of the world in which it is set.
Alexandre Desplat – soundtrack composer of such works as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Rise Of The Guardians and even the latest Godzilla – provides the music, and it certainly doesn’t hurt my immersion. It’s fast, catchy and just as eccentric as just about everything else we experience while watching. Also worth noting is the quick editing; another of Anderson’s trade marks.
I don’t often do this when reviewing recent films, but this time I will point out that this felt to me like a film that Roger Ebert would have enjoyed, had he still been with us. I know he liked Wes Anderson’s work and I know he wouldn’t have been disappointed.
I give The Grand Budapest Hotel a 5/5. Down below is a trailer and hopefully the trailer too will encourage you to give this fine movie a watch. Needless to say, I know it at least got me plenty hooked.