Wes Anderson has a very distinctive style, and if you are a fan of his work, you’ll love the newest one. However, I think that more so with this movie than with previous movies, even if you’re not a fan of his, or not familiar with his previous work, you’ll like this one. It’s got a little wider appeal than some of his previous pieces, but I feel like each individual movie is doing that more and more. I would have said that Moonrise Kingdom was his widest appealing movie to date. Now I will say that The Grand Budapest Hotel is his widest appealing movie to date.
Previous Wes Anderson movies include Rushmore, The Royal Tanenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (my favorite), The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the Darjeeling Unlimited, and Moonrise Kingdom. His style is very still, with an incredible focus on set design and shot-set-up. Each scene looks like a painting, and everything is relatively still inside of it. This allows the actors to shine, and the writing to be appreciated – they almost feel like plays instead of movies.
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, we open on a writer, talking directly to us, about a story he heard from a man years ago. We then get the flashback to the writer as a younger man, being told a story by an old man, and inside that flashback, we get another flashback to the storyteller as a young man working as a lobby boy in the Grand Budapest Hotel, which is situated in a fictional country that borders two other fictional countries about to have a fictional war. Zero Moustafa, the storyteller, tells how he met M. Gustave, the very best concierge, how he learned the hotel business, and how they had an incredible adventure.
M. Gustave treats all his guests with love and respect, especially older ladies of a certain type. One of them suddenly dies, and Gustave and Zero head to her mansion for the reading of her will in front of her wicked son and daughters and other questionable family members. The will leaves Gustave a priceless painting, which Dmitri, her son, is reluctant to part with. Gustave and Zero take the painting and leave, as the butler is trying to tell him something, and instead – slips an item in with the painting. They head back to the hotel, and eventually, Gustave is arrested for her murder, and Zero helps him break out of prison, while an associate of the son of the old lady is chasing down leads to find the missing document, which the lawyer determined was missing. Gustave and Zero, and Zero’s baker love Agatha, eventually find the document – a second will – which of course leaves everything to Gustave.
If that sounds confusing, you’re right – if it also sounds like it has amazing potential for quirky comedy, you’re right again. Part of the genius of Wes Anderson is that he tends to work over and over with the same cast of actors – something that makes a huge difference, because these people really know how to work in his world, and give his quirky characters just the right feel.
- Tom Wilkinson plays the older version of the writer, which is played as the younger version by Jude Law. Neither of them have a ton of things to do, mainly just listen to the story. But Law does get a few scenes wandering through the near empty hotel before sitting down to listen to the tale. And Wilkinson gets to yell at a random child.
- F. Murray Abraham plays the older version of Zero – Mr. Moustafa, who sadly gets to relate the story of his best friend and mentor. He’s wonderful, but I still think of him as Salieri.
- Tony Revolori plays the young Zero, and this is his first major role, and he does a great job. He’s from California, but of Guatemalan descent, none of which matters, because his performance in this movie is perfect. He is somber and eager, and his friendship with Gustave is touching and genuine. I also enjoyed his near flat performance as they embark on their adventure.
- The movie really does belong to Ralph Fiennes as Gustave, and he owns it. It’s been a long time since I saw a movie that he was starring in, I feel like lately he’s been more of a supporting player. He gives Gustave such a genuine passion for his job, and passion for those around him that he immediately becomes a likeable character and wins the audience over completely. He also does a great job of reading some terrible poetry.
- Matheiu Amalric plays Serge, the missing butler. He has very little to do except look very worried all the time, and set up an insane meeting between himself and Gustave and Zero while he’s in hiding.
- Adrien Brody plays the son, Dmitri, and everything about the performance, including the wardrobe, reeks of old-fashioned evil. I wish he twirled his mustache. He’s really fantastic in this.
- Willem Dafoe is even better. He plays the son’s associate, Jopling, who hunts down leads to try to find the missing document. I’m not sure what was up with his outfit, or teeth for that matter, but he was particularly menacing in this – and that’s really something for a guy who is always menacing.
- Jeff Goldblum plays the lawyer who has to sift through all the documents to see that one is missing. He’s as wonderful as he always is, and Wes Anderson movies really suit him. Okay, they suit everyone in them, but Goldblum in particular seems to fit this world.
- Harvey Keitel plays a fellow prisoner once Gustave is locked up. He helps coordinate the escape, and is covered with some terrible fake tattoos on purpose. Also – I feel like I’m watching too much Face Off on SyFy, because I feel like that bald cap was poorly done, unless of course, that was just his head – and in that case – his head skin is weird.
- Saoirse Ronan plays Agatha, the baker with a birthmark the shape of Mexico on her face. Her romance with Zero is very sweet, and her assistance in the final epic conclusion is very entertaining.
- Edward Norton plays the officer who is on the trail of Gustave once he gets blamed with the murder of the old lady, and then with tracking him down once he escapes prison.
- Jason Schwartzman had to be in this, and plays the concierge of the Grand Budapest during its slow decline as the writer is hearing the tale from the older Zero.
- Tilda Swinton under huge amounts of makeup plays the old lady, Madame D. She’s barely in it, but she’s appropriately hilarious when around.
- When Gustave calls for help – he contacts the “Society of Crossed Keys”, which is apparently a secret society of concierge’s at all the big time hotels in the area. These include Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Wallace Wolodarsky, Owen Wilson and Waris Ahluwalia. Each of them has a very brief scene in which they call another member to come in and assist.
The movie is charming and sweet, but also very funny and touching. There are several moments that are surprising. I particularly enjoyed the escape from the mountaintop monastery, in which Zero and Gustave escape on a sled, down a ski slope, then a ski jump, then a bobsled track. It’s random and beautiful, and might just be my new favorite Wes Anderson movie.
8 out of 10 – Gained points for the sled bit, Lost points for Goldblum’s fingers bit, gained points for Zero insisting that Agatha take the note with the location of the painting (“you may need a magnifying glass”), lost points for the cakes shaped like tools that she sneaks into the prison – although, probably gained points for that too – it’s cute.
Bonus Video 1: Moonrise Kingdom, check it out - if you haven't.
Bonus Video 2: So far the only thing that I’ve seen with Adrien Brody attempting to not be an indie darling, Predators, in which he attempts to be an action leading man. Not a bad attempt, but Topher Grace steals this movie from him.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews: