Sean K. Cureton

Archive for April, 2014|Monthly archive page

Great Expectations, or You Had Me at Wes Anderson

In Movie Reviews: 2014 on April 5, 2014 at 11:59 am

Theatrical Poster

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed by Wes Anderson
4 out of 4 stars

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the eighth feature length motion picture to be written and directed by Wes Anderson, the singular American talent whose whimsy and hyper-intellectual style knows no competitors. Following on the unprecedented success of Moonrise Kingdom in 2012, Anderson’s newest picture occurs in the midst of the turmoil leading up to the Second World War in Europe, and is set in the hotel of a rather enigmatic concierge named M. Gustave, a playboy and gentleman of sorts. Following upon the death of a well to do hotel guest, Gustave is named as the soul inheritor of a prized work of art, which sets in motion a whole slew of events that are constantly surprising, hilarious, and poignantly heartfelt and tragic. Playing upon all sorts of narrative conventions, both cinematic and literary, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an intricate and masterfully conceived tour de force, with twists and turns at every point in the film’s incredibly concise 100 minutes, leaving the audience mystified at Anderson’s artistry and in awe of his technical precision. In what might be his boldest turn yet, Anderson has delivered a film that can truly be called a masterpiece, worthy of study among the greatest films of all time.

More than anything that Anderson has produced before, The Grand Budapest Hotel thrives from its inestimable ensemble cast. Where such films as The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou have also sported casts comprising the same range and diversity of talent, Budapest Hotel uses the same tool with a certain deftness that has been absent in Anderson’s work previously. Where the films of Wes Anderson have always been remarkable for their wildly colorful ensemble cast of characters and locales, the European countryside in Anderson’s new film feels more nuanced and life like, antiquated and strikingly foreign, allowing its characters to more naturally settle into their skins and environment. For many, Anderson’s particular cinematic sensibility has become synonymous with quirky eccentricity for the sake of being quirky and eccentric, his films thus failing to reach beyond their immediate audience, comprised, stereotypically, of the well educated, white middle class. With his new film, however, Anderson seems to have matured a little, or perhaps just gotten that much better as a film maker, to be able to craft a film that is, while undoubtedly full of his characteristic tone, more measured in its execution, shedding the self-indulgence of The Life Aquatic and the too-smart-for-its-own-good quality of The Royal Tenenbaums, in exchange for a more tightly wound film narrative that can be appreciated for its remarkable technical mastery by all on its own terms, outside of Anderson’s well established style as an auteur.

At each and every turn over the course of the film, Anderson tinkers with narrative genres and conventions in a way that is playful, well earned, and informed by the film’s cinematic and literary precursors. At turns a coming of age epic reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Ralph Fiennes plays an excellent Jaggers to newcomer Tony Revolori’s Pip, the two actors essentially playing the parts of the Dickensian gentlemen and uninitiated boy with relish, literary panache, and a seemingly endless well of intelligence and subtelty. Likewise, the film also flirts with such genres as WWII period pieces, its unidentified European locale under constant threat from an incredibly theatric German SS, as well as a fantastically realized prison escape sequence reminiscent of the Steve McQueen action picture The Great Escape. And yet, at the same time, the film is utterly without precedent, entirely original and surprising to the point of disbelief, seemingly made up of the stuff of pure dream and unadulterated creativity. There isn’t a false moment in the whole of Budapest Hotel, offering up what is sure to be remembered as one of Anderson’s very best, if not the best.

As a follow up to Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel is imminently satisfying, building upon the mastery of Moonrise with a story about adults, instead of children, this time around. Shot in three different aspect ratios, with the film moving from one to the other depending on the setting, time, and locale, Budapest Hotel is a marvel to behold, its cinematography, shot by longtime collaborator Robert D. Yeoman, among the best in any Anderson film to date, each and every shot a marvel in its symmetrical composition. Ralph Fiennes has never been better, situating himself effortlessly into the world of Wes Anderson, delivering each line with conviction and a straight face. Undoubtedly, it’s hard to be unbiased towards Wes Anderson at this point in his career, as his style and voice has already been well established, self-assure of its many fans and detractors alike before any of his films are even released. So, to save time, maybe the following statement would best summarize and encapsulate the film: you had me at Wes Anderson.