Review: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Friday, 4 April 2014


With playful narrative, extraordinary cast and breathtaking production design, Wes Anderson's latest comedy is a spellbinding if soulless cinematic experience.

Until today, of all the Wes Anderson's movies that I have watched since his acclaimed debut in 1996's BOTTLE ROCKET, I still adored the 1998's RUSHMORE -- which remained his finest masterpiece to date. Now, I'm glad to add his latest movie in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (thanks to 20th Century Fox Malaysia for the special invitation) comes close to achieve the highest bar that Anderson sets earlier for RUSHMORE.

It begins in 1985 as an older writer (Tom Wilkinson) recalls his past in 1968 when his younger self (Jude Law) came to stay at the Grand Budapest Hotel. From there, he meets the aging hotel owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who later tells his story over dinner on how he became unlikely wealthy and owned the hotel at the first place. The story is then flashes way back to 1932 when Middle Eastern immigrant Zero (Tony Revolori) is just a petty lobby boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel. At that time, he works for his highly-demanding head concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). When Gustave's frequent guest and oldest lover, 84-year-old Madame Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Tilda Swinton), is found mysteriously dead, he is surprised to know that she leaves a priceless painting to him. However, Gustave's son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), is not happy with the fact and determines to retain the painting at all cost.
As a homage to the classic 1930s Hollywood movies (particularly 1932's Oscar-winning GRAND HOTEL) and a host of other cinematic references from different era, writer-director Wes Anderson knows well how to play around with multiple genres (e.g. caper comedy, classic whodunit, Alfred Hitchcock-like suspense thriller) and blends them altogether with his trademark quirky concoction

But this movie is best remembered for its superb technical achievement. Likewise, Anderson's carefully-composed camera movements are put into excellent use here. Cinephiles will be especially pleased with cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman's choice of using different aspect ratios (the boxy format of 1.33:1 for the elaborate 1930s flashback, the modern format of 1.85:1 for the brief 1980s sequence, and the widescreen format of 2.35:1 for the 1960s sequence) to justify each of the story's various time frames. Then there's Adam Stockhausen's meticulous production design and Steve Summersgill's eye-catching art direction (e.g. the magnificent exterior and interior shots of the hotel itself) which makes this movie such a gorgeous picture to look at.

As head concierge M. Gustave, it's rare to see Ralph Fiennes in such a freewheeling mode to play a role with such sheer gusto. Not only that, he pairs well with 17-year-old Tony Revolori, whose performance as the soft-spoken lobby boy Zero is simply charming. Equally captivating as well are the colourful supporting cast which includes Adrien Brody's hilariously over-the-top performance as the vicious Dmitri; Willem Dafoe's perfectly sinister turn as Jopling; and Saoirse Ronan's lovely performance as Zero's girlfriend, Agatha. Other additional cast worthy of mentions here are Tilda Swinton (who sports a terrific aging make-up) as the elderly Madame D., Jeff Goldblum as Madame D.'s doomed executor, Deputy Kovacs, F. Murray Abraham as the older Zero, Jude Law as the younger writer, and Edward Norton as Inspector Henckels. Let's not forget also is a bunch of notable cameos (e.g. Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Bob Balaban -- all played as hotel concierges) at which they are brilliantly presented in an elaborate single sequence as they passed through a series of phone calls from different locations to help Gustave.

The TORN CURTAIN-like chase sequence in the history museum which ends with a shocking burst of violence; The elaborate prison escape sequence which influenced from genre classics such as THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963); and the hilarious James Bond-esque skiing chase sequence.

Like most Wes Anderson's movies nowadays, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL lacks heart and soul to hook us emotionally either for the story or the characters.

Despite the usual flaw, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL remains compelling and entertaining enough to qualify as one of the best movies of the year.

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