Originally posted by cinema_holic at The Grand Budapest Hotel
Production Design: A-
Anyone familiar with director Wes Anderson's work knows what to expect. His films are long on high-minded, artistically meticulous set design and prop placement, but often short on emotional resonance. The Grand Budapest Hotel, while undeniably fun in its unique way, fits the mold.
Anderson is a guy with a fervent following, however, among movie fans and movie stars alike. And this movie is packed to the gills with cameos, right down to the Russian nesting doll-type prologues: Tom Wilkinson is a guy who writes a book recounting what he was told years earlier by Jude Law who had lunch years earlier with F. Murray Abraham, who is the older version of Zero, the bell boy hired at the Grand Budapest Hotel in a fictionalized country getting sucked into an alternate-reality version of World War II. Did you get all that? This movie features a bunch of predatory soldiers -- one of them played by Edward Norton -- who are clearly stand-ins for Nazis. They have their own stylized, Wes Anderson-version of paraphernalia; there are no swastikas, but there are Art Deco-like prints of "ZZ" uniforms. Curiously, however, these soldiers are presented fairly neutrally; the villains are totally unrelated.
But there are, indeed, multiple villains. Zero (the wonderful newcomer Tony Revolori) takes his job as bell boy very seriously, and is reluctantly hired by Gustave (the reliably excellent Ralph Fiennes), the possibly bisexual concierge who draws a crowd of elderly rich blonde women whom he is happy to sexually service. Gustave is never characterized as predatory, per se; he seems to get a sort of thrill from this lifestyle. But, when one of the elderly women (Tilda Swinton in particularly well-applied old-age makeup) turns up dead, Gustave is hopeful that he will inherit something. And he does: a painting, called Boy with Apple, which is "priceless," and under the attempted protection of the woman's jealous son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) as well as his henchman Jopling (Willen Dafoe).
Dmitri and Jopling, really, are the villains -- Dmitri calling the shots but Jopling executing them, terrorizing everyone including the estate lawyer (Jeff Goldblum). They manage to frame Gustave for the murder, sending him to jail, where he makes unlikely friends -- including an old-school jailbird type played by Harvey Keitel -- who help him escape. A surprising lot of this movie takes place outside of the Grand Budapest Hotel, actually.
The story is complex, yet easy to understand, and breezily engaging. It does seem, however, still to serve the visual impact of the film on the whole, rather than the other way around -- a Wes Anderson signature. Every shot, and every object in each shot, is so clearly deliberate in their placement, at times it's almost distracting. It can also be charming, as in the skiing sequence in which Anderson clearly wants us to be conscious that it's all done with miniatures, but the enchantment of the sequence is left intact. There's no scene in this movie that is not in one way or another sumptuous to look at -- not least of which are the ones featuring delicious-looking pastries, made by Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), Zero's love interest. The pastries feature prominently in a number of scenes, including a key part of Gustave's escape from prison.
There's something emotionally detached about this story, or at least in the telling of it, but one could argue that observation misses the point. Wes Anderson's films are never meant for melodrama: there won't be any acting Oscars here. After all, in these movies, even the actors are often little more than set decoration, which can be seen as a significant shortcoming. After all, here we have a plethora of incredible actors, and you can feel them barely moving around within the tight constraints of Anderson's vision. On the upside, the two lead actors -- Fiennes and Revolori -- transcend these constraints. It would be nice if more of the others did, but you can't have everything.