By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Review-ish: The Grand Budapest Hotel
I actually feel a little stupid trying to review this movie.
You see, Wes Anderson is a painter. His canvas is film. His paints are all the tools one can use to create a piece of art, including actors.
To reduce a painter to each stroke is only interesting from a distant perspective. How does Wes Anderson make films… what visual language is he working with… how does he use actors… etc, etc, etc? But I doubt there were as many as six speaking roles in this film with any of these great actors working more than 3 or 4 days. This does not devalue the performances. No one else could do them any better or, in some cases, with any success at all, except for those chosen by Wes. And they are not there as cogs in a bigger machine. There are absolutely unique and necessary and, mostly, gone in a flash.
For instance, Tilda Swinton does something she’s never really done here. And it is a thing of epic beauty. And she might have 3 minutes of screen time in the whole film.
I will say this… The Grand Budapest Hotel is more of a Rube Goldberg machine than any of his other pictures, though that feeling has been in most of them. It is absolutely relentless as a story. Constant forward motion. All pieces moving.
It was interesting to see The Great Museum, a Fredrick Wiseman-esque doc about the restoration and reopening of Austria’s state museum. There is a glorious piece of art, described as “an 18th century executive toy” which is a gold boat with what looks like ceramic sails, which has a mechanism in it to move characters of the deck and, in the good old days, fire off a cannon on the 1.5 foot long ship’s deck. This movie reminded me of that boat.
Really, Wes Anderson is the Willy Wonka of art films. He works in a land of pure imagination. You never know what will be around the next corner. But you do have a sense of what the chocolate will taste like.
Anyway… the movie is pleasure after pleasure. Many audiences will be unhappy by how briefly some of their favorites appear in the film. It’s almost unfair to tell people that Bill Murray is in the film… because he is there for an instant. Surely less than a minute in total screen time. But he makes for a wonderful couple of beats.
GB is a Ralph Fiennes movie. And he is perfection. By his side is Tony Revolori, who hits the right Wes tone on every note. Willem Dafoe is a ton of fun as the film’s Boris Badenov. Saoirse Ronan gets a bit of screen time, but doesn’t get to do too much besides look angelic. F. Murray Abraham is your living narrator and is well measured from start to finish.
But make no mistake… this is a Ralph Fiennes movie. And though it is February, it is the kind of turn that generates a lot of awards talk. A lot of great decisions by Ralph, a lot of great decisions by Wes, and a lot of great decisions by Ralph & Wes turn this into a character that can be completely obvious and completely unexpected all within a sentence or two.
What is the movie about? It’s a complicatedly simple adventure. It’s a ride… even though it is still an art film. Just take the ride… describing the stops isn’t going to make it any better, just ruin great surprises.
If you like Wes Anderson movies, you should like this movie, so long as you are not going to feel cheated by the many brief performances (which I would not call cameos, because they don’t feel like that… they feel organic, not stunty… but very limited). And if you can’t get over that, get over yourself. Ralph Fiennes hits it out of the park. Take that and stop being greedy for more.