May 8, 2014 -- This wacky screwball comedy, loosely based on stories by Stefan Zweig, has a plot so labyrinthine and frantic it is hardly worth following, except for the fantastic sets and two very appealing central characters played by Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori. As the late Roger Ebert used to say, it's not what it's about, it is how it is about it.
Ralph Fiennes (“Skyfall”) plays M. Gustave, concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Tony Revolori (“The Perfect Game”) plays Zero, a lobby boy in the hotel and devoted trainee under the tutelage of M. Gustave. Their adventures begin in the aftermath of a murder of a wealthy woman who left a valuable painting to M. Gustave in her will. M. Gustave is a suspect in the murder, but of course it is a lot more complicated than that.
Much of the film consists of M. Gustave and Zero being chased around by a menacing killer, Jopling (played by Willem Dafoe of “Spider-Man”). Jopling turns out to be very skilled at erasing witnesses and clues. He is also very good at tracking M. Gustave and Zero, no matter how carefully they try to cover their tracks. One of the many frantic chase scenes in the movie has Jopling, M. Gustave and Zero all zooming down ski slopes, bobsled runs and ski jumps at ridiculous speeds.
Fiennes and Revolori both give wonderful performances as they carry this film, with able support from Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Jeff Goldblum, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody, Bob Balaban and a whole host of talented actors brought together by Director Wes Anderson. Indeed, few other directors could attract a cast this talented. Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”) plays Agatha, the love of Zero's life.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks second or third hand, with F. Murray Abraham telling the main story to an author, played by Jude Law. Tom Wilkinson plays an author who was told this story. This author, apparently, represents the famed author Stefan Zweig. The sets in this film are amazing thanks to the work of production designer Adam Stockhausen (“Moonrise Kingdom”) and the rest of design team. It is a dazzling-looking film.
Although the story is a screwball comedy, there is also a sombre overtone to the story, at least to that part of the story that tells us of the fate of the main characters. Perhaps this is to be expected since the story of Stefan Zweig is ultimately a tragic one (both he and his wife commit suicide in 1942 in despair over the rise of the Nazis and anti-Semitism). Then again, one could argue that the tragic endings tacked onto the story are no more convincing than happy endings tacked onto the ends of other films, but tragic endings will give garner better reviews, perhaps because of the nature of critics themselves. This film rates a B.
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