The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Review:

Wes Anderson’s grand movie.

Concierge indeed.
Concierge indeed.

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Kietel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, et al…

Director: Wes Anderson

Runtime: 100 Minutes

Plot: (taken from IMDb) The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

Fans of Wes Anderson’s quirky style of filmmaking will know what they are getting into here in terms of cinematography, acting and humour – but they will not be expecting a film quite like this. For the uninformed, Wes Anderson uses a very quirky style with fast sweep-edits, close framing and bizarre special effects.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is hilarious, outstandingly so. Each actors sense of comic timing is second to none, working with a finely crafted script that maintains its pace and humour throughout. The irreverent, off-kilter humour just blew me away and the key to this comes with two performances in particular: Ralph Fiennes and Willem Dafoe, both giving their all, perhaps both giving their finest performances to date.

On a side note, Jeff Goldblum in this film gives a fine performance, so good, I didn’t even realise it was him until the credits rolled. Indeed, the entire cast make the film what it is, I rarely see a film where every actor gives a stellar performance. Without the strength of the cast, The Grand Budapest Hotel would just not be as funny as it is.

The chaos theory sadly does not enter into this film.
The chaos theory sadly does not enter into this film.

It really came as a shock to me how funny this film is, especially for something that is just about how the Grand Budapest hotel came into belonging to a Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), showing the story from the start, when he was just a lobby boy working for M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). The simple storytelling in the film works wonders and it never feels dull or forgets any of its characters – as odd as they are. Indeed, the plot is easily the best of Anderson’s work, even acting something of a critique on how race was handled in Europe in its harsh years between both the World Wars.

Throughout the film there is also a pertinent message of love, and how it can pull one through even the harshest of times. However, the messages are not loud and clear; they are just part of the film’s structure and never shout out at you or get in the way of the plot. This is a film full of essence and fun.

The film places the two central characters in many different situations, but they are played for laughs as much as they are for character and plot development. For the characters are as interesting and off-beat as what they are doing and where they are. Each character feels important, like they are adding something to the film, which is an amazing feat for a film with so many characters. Wes Anderson has always focussed on the off-beat, but it is only now with The Grand Budapest Hotel that he has perfected the formula.

However, you cannot quite shake the feeling through the majority of the film that it is trying to be different – this is for one reason: the overbearing use of 4:3 resolution. When the film is set in the past (the vast majority), it employs a 4:3 scale, which at first comes off as a bit of a daring move, but I don’t feel it paid off. The design helps for Andersons framing techniques (the square room), but most of the time It just seemed a tad pretentious and in fact got in the way of the film for me. For while some of the film’s shots take advantage of the style, a lot do not – one of the biggest improvements in the film language for me was the swap to widescreen.

While this may be my only problem with the film, it is quite a big one. If less of the technique was used, I would let it go, but I was certainly sitting in the cinema for quite a while wondering if it was meant to be in the smaller aspect ratio. I do not want to be sitting through a film wondering why they chose to make it that way, I want to just sit back and let it all in.

Before we go however, there are a couple more positives to mention. Costume design in the film is fantastic, as is set design; Wes Anderson has a great eye for detail. The music in the film really fits the mood; I loved the use of bad language in the film, entirely for comedy and violence is handled just as well. But for me, the icing on the cake is the film’s special effects, i.e, models. The use of models in film is a dying art, and The Grand Budapest Hotel uses models spectacularly, entirely for the laughs.

Summary:

Never before have I seen a film with such a gay abandon or a film where everything is played for laughs quite so well. I have however, seen films like this before, any film by Wes Anderson, but rest assured, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the director’s finest concoction. It is surprisingly hilarious, fantastically acted, designed and written but it is a shame that the decision to use 4:3 aspect ratio overbearingly confused me and got in the way of what could have been the best film of the year so far.

Quirky, irreverent and fantastic in every way, one stylistic choice too far however.

90/100

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