Review – The Grand Budapest Hotel

The idiosyncratic Wes Anderson conjures up his latest magical microcosm in this sumptuously designed feast for the senses.

When Wes Anderson is good he's very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he's at the top of his game. It's is an absolute delight

When Wes Anderson is good he’s very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he’s at the top of his game. It’s an absolute delight

One could compare Anderson’s career to that of a sculptor meticulously chiseling away at a piece of rock and removing all of the rough edges until what’s left is a thing of beauty.

His 1996 debut Bottle Rocket was an uneven work with enough flashes of Anderson’s unique visual style to mark him out as one to watch. His following two films, the resplendent Rushmore (1998) and superior The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) marked the end of a highly impressive first phase.

M. Gustave H. (Raplph Fiennes) comforts the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) comforts the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Phase two was more difficult, with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2006) failing to strike the same chord. However, since 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, the balance of whimsy, eccentricity and maturity he failed to achieve in his previous two films was finally stuck, with this third phase in Anderson’s oeuvre also producing the lovely Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and now this charming confection (actually his second ‘hotel’ picture following the 2007 short Hotel Chevalier).

The film begins with an unnamed author (Tom Wilkinson) recollecting the time he spent as a younger man (played by Jude Law) at the Grand Budapest Hotel, where he encountered its reclusive owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Over dinner, Zero tells the extraordinary story of how, as a young man in the 1930s, he came to inherit one of Europe’s most lavish hotels from M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who at the time was its suave and sophisticated concierge. They strike up a warm friendship after Gustave is framed for the murder of his octogenarian lover Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) and must prove not only his innocence but also uncover the real culprits.

The one and only Bill Murray plays hotel concierge M. Ivan in The Grand Budapest Hotel

The one and only Bill Murray plays hotel concierge M. Ivan in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Anderson’s love of early cinema, present in Bottle Rocket with its nod to Edwin S Porter’s landmark 1903 picture The Great Train Robbery, can be found here in the wonderful old school effects shots that bring to mind pioneering genius Georges Méliès. Likewise, the film’s deadpan physical comedy inevitably brings to mind such early masters of the form as Chaplin and Keaton.

M. Gustave H. (Raplh Fiennes) confronts the dastardly Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrieb Brody) and his henchman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) confronts the dastardly Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody) and his henchman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

His trademark mise en scène is also taken to the nth degree in The Grand Budapest Hotel, with its beautifully crafted and crisp tracking shots, zooms and back and forth camera shots so meticulously constructed as to make Stanley Kubrick proud.

In spite of being a marvel of precise technical mastery, the film is rich with memorable characters, each brought vividly to life by a splendid cast. Fiennes, in his first collaboration with Anderson, is a marvel and gives a beautifully measured turn that’s equal parts farcical, steely eyed and kind. He’s matched by Tony Revolori, whose portrayal of the loyal and determined young Zero sits perfectly next to his partner-in-crime Gustave.

Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and his beau Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and his beau Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

The supporting cast, many giving extended cameos, all stand out due to the care and attention given to each of their characters. Willem Dafoe’s henchman J.G. Jopling looks like a cross between Nosferatu and Frankenstein’s monster, while Jeff Goldblum gives a typically terrific turn as the unfortunate Deputy Kovacs and Saoirse Ronan is sweet as Zero’s love interest Agatha. Let’s not forget Bill Murray, of course, who makes a quick impression as fellow hotel concierge M. Ivan.

These warm performances are matched by Anderson’s dialogue that, while maintaining the zippiness of his previous films, is also imbued with a generosity and affection that radiates when uttered by such a gifted cast.

When Wes Anderson is good he’s very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he’s at the top of his game. It’s an absolute delight.

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21 comments

  1. ckckred · March 14, 2014

    Nice review. I can’t wait to see The Grand Budapest Hotel as I’m a huge fan of Wes Anderson. Good to hear it doesn’t disappoint.

    • Three Rows Back · March 21, 2014

      It really doesn’t. I couldn’t really think of anything negative to say about it if I’m honest! Thanks very much.

  2. Tom · March 15, 2014

    Oh my god. I have no idea how I’m going to kill the time waiting for this thing!!!!

    You, sir, have doubled my anticipation. I had high hopes this would stand tall with Wes Anderson’s best, and by the seems of things, it does. Would you venture to say it’s his best? Or just. . .among the best? Tough question, I know. 😉

    • Three Rows Back · March 21, 2014

      Ha ha, I’m glad to have been of service! I had high hopes also and I really wasn’t disappointed. Not one bit. I’d put it behind Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but I think it’s on the same level as Moonrise Kingdom, which I really liked.

  3. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · March 15, 2014

    So glad you liked it mate, had a feeling you would! It’s a hell of a lot of fun, looks great and the writing is sharp. Fine write up here Mark.

    • Three Rows Back · March 21, 2014

      Ah, thanks Chris. I had high expectations, but it exceeded them. A real audience pleaser. Oh, by the way, I’ve had an idea for another Blogathon if you’re interested?

  4. CMrok93 · March 15, 2014

    Not Anderson’s best, but definitely one of his more exciting, fun ones that I haven’t seen him do in quite some time. Good review Mark.

    • Three Rows Back · March 21, 2014

      Appreciate that Dan. I’d rate it right up there in Anderson’s work. Top 3-4 for me.

  5. ruth · March 17, 2014

    Great review Mark! I find it to be delightful as well, and very impressed w/ Tony Revolori who could match a veteran actor like Fiennes who’s more than fine in his rare comedic role! I’ve upvoted this on reddit too 😀

    • Three Rows Back · March 21, 2014

      Thank you Ruth! Delightful is the single best word I think you can use to describe this film. Fiennes is absolutely wonderful.

  6. Zoë · March 18, 2014

    Awesome review! I might check this out, you may just have convinced me!

    • Three Rows Back · March 21, 2014

      Fantastic! Thanks Zoe; I really hope you check it out. It’s well worth it.

  7. jmartin1344 · March 22, 2014

    Nice review, I’m glad the film is as charming as it looks. I’ve always thought that his films are the kind that I wouldn’t expect to be good, but almost always they are. That’s just based on my tastes and what I generally like. I loved Moonrise Kingdom. Looking forward to seeing this.

    • Three Rows Back · March 23, 2014

      Thanks buddy. Anderson’s been on a hot streak since Fantastic Mr Fox and this continues it. If you liked Moonrise I reckon you’ll get a kick out of this.

  8. Writer Loves Movies · March 26, 2014

    Great review. Completely agree that this is the finest film we’ve see from Anderson and I’m very excited to see where he takes us next.

    • Three Rows Back · March 26, 2014

      I hope Anderson doesn’t go too far down the rabbit hole. He’s really hit his stride in his past three films. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

  9. Mark Walker · March 27, 2014

    Brilliant work Mark. I’m really dying to catch this. I’ve waited far too long now. The positivity for this is just through the roof. It’s fantastic to hear.

    • Three Rows Back · April 2, 2014

      Sorry for the late reply Mark! Thank you as always. You may have seen this by now, but if not you need to forthwith!

  10. Lights Camera Reaction · March 29, 2014

    Aw, glad you liked it! The slapstick of the film heightens the film and is always used in good taste with Anderson’s writing making sure it never feels out of place, and surprisingly never detaches. I loved loved loved it!
    Lovely review.

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