Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel finds him operating at the peak of his powers and as confident as he’s ever been.

Anderson has always operated in his own slice of our reality, but with his last few films he’s worked towards creating a world entirely his own. With Fantastic Mr. Fox Anderson took Roald Dahl’s world and made it his own, Moonrise Kingdom found Anderson creating his own little island, but with The Grand Budapest Hotel he finally has created an entire world; or at least a couple countries. You get entirely lost in that world and every little detail on screen lends itself to a greater understanding of everything in it. Everything is askew, just a touch, in an Anderson-y way (often through his gorgeous color palette) and feels familiar while feeling foreign at the same time. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a much awaited culmination for fans of Anderson’s world building and it’s a joy to get lost in it.

Having an incredibly rich world is one thing, but it would be pointless if there weren’t a great story or engaging characters to play in it. This isn’t a problem for The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film is novelistic and I think one of the greatest strengths of The Grand Budapest Hotel is that it has the most complete feeling story of any of Anderson’s films. That isn’t to say his other films are open ended, they just often tell one important episode of their characters’ lives. The Grand Budapest Hotel is similar in this regard, focusing mostly on a particular misadventure of our leads, Zero and Gustave, but the framing device of the film being a reading of a retelling of a recalling of the story make it feel all the more wrapped up. I swear that last sentence will make more sense when you see the film, but you ultimately feel more attuned with the characters and their lives as a whole in this film more than any of Anderson’s previous.

The gist of the story, by the way, is how Mr. Moustafa came to own the titular Grand Budapest Hotel and how the death of Madame D. made that all possible. Broken up into 5 chapters, the story moves along at a clip. As our two leads are sent running around Zubrowka there’s barely a moment for them, or us, to catch our breaths, but when it does take a moment it is often to build rather effective tension or dwell in some darker corners of the plot. Anderson’s plots usually take a back seat/are built to assist character growth, but The Grand Budapest Hotel keeps the plot engaging, while filling it with tons of interesting characters that show plenty of growth. Fantastic Mr. Fox is the film’s closest cousin in the Anderson filmography and I hope he continues to achieve this, seemingly, perfect balance of plot and character that fits his style so well.

The cast of characters is too large to run through everyone, but no matter how big or small their part is most everyone is memorable. Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe are formidable foes, Saoirse Ronan is delightful, Jude Law and F. Murray Abraham are fantastic storytellers, Jeff Goldblum is Jeff Goldblum, and The Secret Society of the Crossed Keys are stupendous. I could go on, but most of the praise belongs to the leads played by Tony Revolori and Ralph Fiennes. Revolori has few credentials, like Zero, but he fits right into Anderson’s world and goes toe to toe with every big name star he encounters; and he encounters a lot. Revolori is also up against Fiennes in the majority of his scenes and he is the perfect protege to Gustave. But Fiennes is unmatched here and he delivers one of the all-time great performances in an Anderson film. In fact, it is one of the best performances he has given, ever. Gustave is a character unlike any I have ever seen and it is one of those great parts where you can’t imagine anyone else in the role but Fiennes. He bounces off everyone he encounters with such ease, but I could have just watched Gustave marching around, barking out orders at The Grand Budapest for an hour and a half and still have loved the film.

On the technical side of things, Anderson’s script and world details have never been sharper or full of so many visual jokes. The production and costume design are exquisite, you want to stay at The Budapest, and the design work is just as strong. The effects are perfectly executed and fittingly quirky, giving the world that extra Anderson feel. The cinematography is as you’ve come to expect in Anderson’s films, perfect, and it seems even more especially beautiful this time out. I don’t know if it is just because the colors are so rich and vibrant, but there seems to be even more creativity packed into the visuals; no matter the aspect ratio. Alexandre Desplat’s score is also one of the key’s to this film’s driving force, it rarely fades out of the background, and it is just as lovely as you have come to expect from the excellent composer.

The Grand Budapest Hotel was a film I was destined to love, Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors, but I haven’t walked out of one of his films this strongly in love since The Royal Tenenbaums. All of Anderson’s films grow on further viewings (he layers his films like few others) and if The Grand Budapest Hotel continues to grow in appreciation the way his other works have then we might have a strong challenger for the title of Anderson’s masterpiece on our hands.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an A+

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