‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’: Wes Anderson as crowd-pleaser
By BRUCE INGRAM For Sun-Times Media March 13, 2014 1:28PM
Refined hotel concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is aided on and off the job by ambitious lobby boy Zero (Rony Revolori). | FOX SEARCHLIGHT PHOTOS
‘THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL’ ★★★★
Gustave H. Ralph Fiennes
Mr. Moustafa F. Murray Abraham
Zero Tony Revolori
Madame D Tilda Swinton
Dmitri Adrien Brody
Fox Searchlight presents a film written and directed by Wes Anderson. Running time: 99 minutes. Rated R (for language, some sexual content and violence). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Updated: April 15, 2014 6:03AM
Those who find the films of Wes Anderson off-puttingly mannered and artificial aren’t likely to be converted by “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which plays out, even more than usual, in a peculiar world of its own.
If you admire Anderson at his best, though (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Moonrise Kingdom”) there’s a good chance you’ll be delighted by this masterfully executed, highly stylized, occasionally perverse farce, which takes his own personal brand of artifice to inspired new heights.
Set in the fictional former republic of Zubrowka, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is related by an author (Tom Wilkinson) flashing back to 1968, when his younger self (Jude Law) listens to the life story of the mysterious multi-millionaire Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) in the declining grand hotel. Moustafa, the hotel’s owner, casts back even further, to 1932, during the hotel’s glory days, when he was a lobby boy and the Budapest was run by his mentor, the legendary concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes in a rare comic role that’s nonetheless deeply felt).
A holdover from a rapidly vanishing, more elegant era, Gustave is a model of impeccable manners and refinement, contrasted by a graphically vulgar vocabulary and an eyebrow-raising habit of seducing the hotel’s richest, and most elderly, female clientele. That’s how he becomes involved with Madame D. (an unrecognizably decrepit Tilda Swinton), whose murder propels him into a battle for her immense fortune, aided by young Zero (Tony Revolori). The complicated struggle also involves her evil son (Adrien Brody), his homicidal henchman (Willem Dafoe), a priceless stolen painting, several more murders, a prison break and a frantic, climactic cross-country chase.
It’s very strange to think of Anderson as a crowd-pleaser. He has always followed his own eccentric path as a filmmaker and earned a sizable following as a result. But he comes as close as he’s likely to get with “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which is not only a murder mystery at its core but more of a full-tilt comedy than his typically melancholy, quirk-driven musings. And it’s packed with stellar cameos from Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman (Anderson regulars), Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Lea Seydoux and Edward Norton.
That’s not to say that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a sellout — quite the opposite. Anderson is every bit as obsessed with visual composition as before, meaning every frame, virtually, is a treat for the eyes. The actors’ performances are typically offbeat and affectless, as well. And there’s a distinct strain of sadness throughout the proceedings, particularly in the way an unspecified, Nazi-like fascist army appears and threatens Gustave’s way of life.
It’s quintessential Anderson, in other words, but also an unabashed entertainment. And that’s something to see.