The Grand Budapest Hotel Review

Wes Anderson's latest has the idiosyncratic director working at the height of his powers.

rating:4

These past few years, Wes Anderson really seems to have found his comedic voice. With his last three films, the director has continued to look more confident and self-assured, more willing to be silly and playful, which allows his films to be unabashedly stylistic. There is no greater proof of this than in The Grand Budapest Hotel, his latest film, which finds the director tackling the screwball comedy genre with tremendous ease. Once again, Anderson has a ton of fun creating a brand new world with a whole new cast of characters, and it's a pure delight to watch it unravel. It's a shame that there are a considerable amount of people out there who have grown sick and tired of the director's quirks. Wes Anderson firmly stands within his own genre, of course, and there is nobody else like him. But in actuality, he has grown a lot over the years. Compare the camerawork in The Grand Budapest Hotel to Rushmore and you will see that Wes Anderson has evolved to become quite the technical master. He was always a pro when it came to production design and attention-to-detail, but Moonrise Kingdom and Budapest have really shown just how skillful this filmmaker is behind the camera. There's a lightness and a fluidity to the camera movement in The Grand Budapest Hotel that perfectly serves the story being told. Most importantly, Anderson's last two films have also managed to have some poignancy without ever dwelling in it. Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel both have well-constructed stories that allow each individual character to shine without ever losing sight of its central focus. With Budapest, the central focus is on the adventures of Gustave H. and his lobby boy, Zero Moustafa, as they find themselves trapped in a murder plot while the threat of war ravages the country around them. But there's an underlying sadness that permeates the film; there's a lot more going on here than just top-notch entertainment.
Set in Eastern Europe in the early 1930s, Gustave H. is the devoted concierge at the Grand Budapest who befriends his recently-hired lobby boy and takes him under his wing, showing him the ropes. Gustave H.'s habit of bedding the elderly females who frequent his hotel soon gets the best of him when the wealthy Madame D. is found dead under mysterious circumstances. Worst of all, when it's discovered that Madame D. has bequeathed a very expensive painting to Gustave H., thanks to his exceptional service to her over the years, the woman's family is suddenly out for blood. What soon follows are a series of sequences that are among the best work Wes Anderson has ever done. Gustave H. finds himself in prison after he's been framed for Madame D.'s murder. This leads to a wonderfully-detailed prison escape scene that is both hilarious and inspired in its execution. When Zero joins Gustave in his escape, the shenanigans become even more entertaining, concluding with an impromptu ski race. The director manages to have such incredible control over these sequences, allowing things to unfold through a series of left turns that never feel out of place. Compare the shootout sequence at the hotel, for example, to the shootout scenes in The Life Aquatic and you'll see how much more control Wes Anderson has now when it comes to directing action sequences. Ralph Fiennes is incredibly entertaining as Gustave H., of course. Fiennes showcases a real knack for comic timing in the film; he's so good, you'll forget that this is the same actor who once played Voldemort. There's also 17-year-old actor Tony Revolori, who's been given the unenviable task of acting opposite Fiennes, yet surprisingly, he holds his own pretty well. They have a natural chemistry with each other that is reminiscent of the unlikely friendship between Max Fischer and Herman Blume in Wes Anderson's second film, Rushmore.
Willem Dafoe also does a great job portraying J.G. Jopling, a cold-blooded assassin whose mission is take out everyone who may be involved in the murder plot of Madame D. It's been awhile since we've seen Dafoe play a full-on bad guy, and he's easily the most evil character Wes Anderson has ever written. Anderson has always been underrated when it comes to casting actors and playing to their strengths. For the second movie in a row, Wes Anderson brings in Edward Norton, who once again plays a character who has to track down the film's protagonists. Norton's character is good-natured and dedicated to his profession, much like his role as a scout master in Moonrise Kingdom, and it suits him perfectly. Despite the large cast, Anderson still gives everyone a chance to shine, including the likes of Adrien Brody and Jeff Goldblum. Despite the film's overt silliness, then, there is a poignancy to The Grand Budapest Hotel that makes it more resonant that you would expect. The movie's told by an older version of Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who now owns the hotel he once worked in. His hotel, in the late 1960s, is much more run-down and empty than it was back in its glory days and the hotel represents the very country that it resides in (the fictional Republic of Zubrowka). Back when things were booming, the country had such an abundance of wealth that even the threat of war couldn't deter the film's central characters from bickering over a painting. Thirty years later, the hotel bares little resemblance of what it used to be and, like The Republic of Zubrowka, it's a shell of its former self. The only reason the hotel still exists is because of Zero's need to hold on to his past. It serves as a reminder of what things used to be like, back when people had class and life was good.
One of the director's clear inspirations for The Grand Budapest Hotel are the films of Ernst Lubitsch, who was known for his own distinct brand of sophisticated screwball comedies during the Classic Hollywood era. While you can definitely feel the "Lubitsch touch," thematically, Budapest reminded me of Jean Renoir's The Rules Of The Game, another film about a group of European wealthy elites who are blatantly unaware of the looming threat of World War II. Anderson may wear all of his influences on his sleeve, but the film is unmistakably the product of his own imagination. Ultimately, Grand Budapest Hotel is a light film and because the 1930s sequences are so excellent, it makes the scenes that take place in the '60s pale slightly by comparison. A little more time could have been spent establishing the elder-Moustafa character and the movie does not end quite as strongly as it could have. These are both minor complaints, especially since the dourness of the 1960s scenes makes sense within the film's story. Still, after riding on such a high for the majority of the film, it was hard not to feel a bit let-down by the ending. Nevertheless, there's something to be said about watching a tightly-wound screwball comedy unfold within a 95-minute time frame. Once The Grand Budapest Hotel picks up steam, it moves along at an incredibly brisk pace, and while watching it I realized just how rare it is to see a comedy being made in such a manner these days - with Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson essentially revives the screwball comedy. It is a real pleasure to watch and - much like the elderly ladies Gustave H. seduces - it'll leave you wanting more.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is out in cinemas now.
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Ken writes movie reviews on his blog, kenoncinema.blogspot.com. He currently resides in New York City. Twitter: @keng324