By Dana Barbuto
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Writer-director Wes Anderson’s madcap confection “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is easily the fastidious filmmaker’s best. It’s chock full of his signature attention to detail, strong visual style, clever irony and blessed with an all-star ensemble.
The talented field populating “Budapest” – including many of Anderson’s regular collaborators, such as Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray – is highlighted by a career-best performance from Ralph Fiennes. Who knew Lord Voldemort could be so suave, sincere, bawdy and funny in the same moment? As Monsieur Gustave, the legendary concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel, Fiennes balances the character’s smug superiority with just the right amount sentiment to make you root for him, despite some questionable morals. He’s an Old World player (as in gigolo) who’s a bit particular, and enjoys bedding aged female guests of the opulent pink palace located in a spa town in the fictional Eastern European republic of Zubrowka. The ever-attentive concierge digs his dowagers – the richer, the older, the more superficial, the better.
Set mainly in the period between the two world wars, Anderson’s story twists through time. The narrative begins in 1968 with an “interestingly old fellow,” Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), recounting to Jude Law’s young writer how he came to own the now-doomed hotel. From there, the action rewinds to 1932, when Gustave’s adventures get under way in earnest after the death of one of those dowagers (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton). Gustave and his sad-eyed Lobby Boy protege, Zero (terrific newcomer Tony Revolori), get mixed up in the theft of her priceless Renaissance painting, irreverently titled “Boy With Apple.” A battle with her demented family over their fortune ensues. The result is one eccentric scenario and character after the next being introduced in Anderson’s layered narrative. Each actor is clearly having their cake from the film’s fictional bakery, Mendls, and eating it, too. In full beard, moustache and thick-rimmed glasses Jeff Goldblum plays the stern family lawyer with the ill-fated Persian cat. Adrien Brody is the villainous son. Willem Defoe is the family’s leather-clad muscle and Mathieu Amalric the odd butler. Harvey Keitel in prison tats is always a fun cameo.
In one of the film’s running gags, Anderson depicts a network of concierges from rival hotels who operate like an underground railway, helping Gustave and Zero, escape pursuit from Norton’s stiff police officer and to keep one step ahead of the dowager’s crazy clan. Stops include run-ins at a monastery, a toboggan chase, and a grand shoot-out in the hotel, all moved along by Alexandre Desplat’s sumptuous score.
Absurd? Definitely. But that’s the appeal. In Anderson’s (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Moonrise Kingdom”) hands a pedestrian-plotted caper flick flourishes into a poignant yarn about the unlikely bromance between Gustave and Zero. Theirs is a bond that can’t break as Gustave grooms and protects Zero. Together, they make you want to book a long stay at “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @danabarbuto.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL(R for language, some sexual content, and violence). Cast includes Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham. Grade: A.
Movie review: Grand Budapest’ is Wes Anderson at his best
By Dana Barbuto