The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language, some sexual content and violence
Running Time: 100 min.

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Matthieu Amalric, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Lea Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens, Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson (inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig)

Review published March 23, 2014

Ralph Fiennes (The Invisible Woman, Skyfall) stars as Gustav H., a dedicated concierge at a landmark Eastern European hotel in the fantasy-republic of Zubrowka in the 1930s who ends up in a mad caper once one of his richest of guests (Swinton, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) is found dead under mysterious circumstances, leaving a priceless Renaissance painting in her will to Gustav.  This sets the wheels in motion for a revenge of sorts from the octogenarian woman's greedy son (Brody, Midnight in Paris), who sets about to framing Gustav for his mother's death, killing anyone who threatens to get in the way of his scheme.  Along with his sidekick, the lobby boy named Zero (Revolori, The Perfect Game), Gustav must not only avoid deadly danger, but clear his good name before he loses his prized possession -- or his life.

Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic, Rushmore) delivers arguably his most Wes Anderson-ian film to date, the delightfully meticulous, uber-whimsical The Grand Budapest Hotel.  His story is framed through the recounting narrative of Zero, an older man named Moustafa (Abraham, Inside Llewyn Davis) in the most present-day segment of the film, who is currently maintaining the stately hotel, despite declining clientele.  He spins his lengthy yarn to an author (Law, Side Effects) interested in the history of the rarified establishment he is residing in.

Like most Wes Anderson films, what most viewers tend to respond to is his uniquely quirky visual style, especially in combination with his quaint musical sense, delicate color palette, textured set design, and impeccably edited conversations.  From an aesthetic point of view, each of his films is a delicate work of art on its own, a sumptuous confection meant to be savored luxuriously, rather than devoured in a ravenous binge.  And it's not just what you see on the screen, but also the screen itself, which gives us shifting aspect ratios ranging anywhere from 1.37:1 to 2.35:1 in scope, depending on the era in which the scene showcased takes place.

Most viewers will come away impressed by the sheer amount of big-name stars that contribute to the film in smaller roles, and while they all offer some nice character work here, this film really belongs to Ralph Fiennes, who shows quite well that he can command the screen in a lightly comedic fashion, rather than as the heavy that dominates most of his better known works.  Most people may not notice that, despite being set in Eastern Europe, nearly the entire cast speaks in their native dialects and accents, from American, British, Irish, to French, regardless of whatever nationality they may be playing at the time.  It's not realistic in this fashion, but since Anderson so cleverly sets up his snow globe of an insular world as both part of, and separate from, the real world as we know it, he commands creative license in a manner that few directors ever could.

While it's not quite as impactful or sentimental as some of his better works, The Grand Budapest Hotel still is lovingly crafted by a filmmaker at the peak of his prodigious abilities.  Even if the story itself doesn't always enthrall, it continues to delight with boundless whimsy and clever visual set pieces.  It's perhaps one of Anderson's most approachable of works, as one can delight in its style without being a Wes Anderson fan, necessarily, as it is mostly a zany farcical comedy that's not too densely plotted.  From beginning to end, Anderson never loses his tempo or is lax in his vision, making The Grand Budapest Hotel one of the year's richest of cinematic desserts.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo