Film Review: Grand Budapest Hotel

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Plot: In 1932, the Grand Budapest Hotel was the premier hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka, thanks in large part to its dedicated concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). After Madame D (Tilda Swinton), a frequent elderly guest of the hotel dies, she leaves a valuable painting to Gustave, which makes him the target of a frame up. Along with his trusty lobby boy (Tony Revolori), they go about proving Gustave’s innocence.

There are some filmmakers who perform their craft so well, we can’t help but look at them through different lenses. Wes Anderson is one of those filmmakers. While The Grand Budapest Hotel is an overall solid film, it’s a disappointing Wes Anderson film. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to like, but what I’ve always admired most about Wes Anderson is his ability to create a distinct style, yet still keep the characters at the forefront. In his latest effort though, I felt his trademark style went too far, taking away from characters I really wanted to learn more about, but never got the opportunity. My biggest problem though with this film is that I sadly did not care for its story.

The first fifteen minutes were great – classic Wes Anderson. He introduces a cool way to set up the story, and we are off and running into 1932 where we meet M. Gustave, the concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel, and his new lobby boy named Zero, played by newcomer Tony Revolori. The story actually takes place through his eyes, as he tells it to a young writer (Jude Law) in the 1960’s, with the older Zero being played by F. Murray Abraham in a wonderful performance. The story is really about M. Gustave though, and Ralph Fiennes is brilliant – funny, flawed, and a character you absolutely love, just pure Wes Anderson. Gustave runs this hotel like a machine, and the way Anderson shoots how he conducts his normal everyday business is beautiful. In watching this sequence, there was no doubt in my mind I was about to experience another great Wes Anderson movieā€¦then the plot begins.

One of the quirky characteristics of Gustave is his affinity for older women. So when one of his more frequent guests dies (Tilda Swinton in a lot of makeup), it starts a chain reaction of conspiracy, an angry next of kin, and all sorts of other shenanigans. The bottom-line is this: Gustave is framed for the murder of the old lady after a valuable painting is left in his care, so most of the film is Gustave and Zero trying to clear his name. For a movie called The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s not really about the hotel at all, and that’s my biggest gripe with this film. The set up at the beginning is that the Grand Budapest used to mean something, a place of grandeur. That’s the story I wanted to see, as opposed to a boring convoluted fugitive plot. The entire middle of the film is just a series of bland escapades and over stylized sequences that do nothing to enhance the characters, who are really interesting! There’s an especially boring section of the film where Gustave is in prison that did absolutely nothing for me.

Even though we don’t get a lot of good character development, there are some truly top notch performances. I already mentioned Fiennes’ Gustave, who is just a delight. He’s kind of a mix between Royal Tenenbaum and Steve Zissou, but smarter and more cunning. The strongest part of the film without question is his relationship and mentorship over Zero, played very well by Ton Revolori. Adrien Brody plays the dastardly Dmitri, the son of Madame D. Aside from Fiennes, Brody was probably the funniest character, and was severely underutilized as a villain. We also get Willem Dafoe as a villain though, playing an eccentric hard ass assassin, which is just as good as it sounds. Edward Norton has a nice little role as well, and Saoirse Ronan was also very impressive, doing a lot with very underwritten material as Agatha, the love interest to Zero. And even though Jason Schwartzman is in this very little, he makes full use of his scenes. I hope Schwartzman has a bigger role in Anderson’s next film. Anytime you have more Jason Schwartzman, it’s always a good thing.

Even with all these colorful characters, there were some who just weren’t necessary, and felt like they were only there because it was a Wes Anderson movie. There’s a great scene where Gustave contacts concierges at other high end hotels as a sort of brotherhood to help him out. I loved the set-up of this, but it went absolutely no where, and felt like an excuse to shoehorn in other Wes Anderson staples such as Bill Murray. Look, I love Bill Murray as much of the next guy, but if there’s no reason for him to be there, don’t use him. Owen Wilson also pops up at the end for a completely throwaway role. very time you think there’s about to be a great sequence, it devolves into complete disappointment.

Despite all the criticisms I’ve made about the over-stylized nature of the story, I’d be lying if I didn’t recognize some really good action scenes. There’s a ski chase that was pretty damn fun. The best way to describe it is that it looked like an action scene directed by Wes Anderson. There’s also another well filmed shoot out at the end, which takes place at the Grand Budapest.

Speaking of the end, the last twenty minutes save this film immensely. It finally becomes a lot more focused on Gustave and Zero, whereas most of the movie is very scatterbrained. I was surprised at how much I was actually impacted by these characters, despite not really caring about the story in the second act. The climax is sort of a tragedy in itself, as the movie felt like it was a lot better than it really was. The end felt like a great wrap up to a film I didn’t actually see. It hits the point home about the legacy of this hotel, and the impact Gustave had on Zero throughout the rest of his life, but the problem is the film wasn’t about that as much as it should have been.

I could see myself enjoying this a lot more on a second go around, but I left the theater pretty unfulfilled. It’s a good movie, with good characters, and a memorable score, but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t very compelling. This was one of the rare times where Wes Anderson fell victim to his own style, which he usually balances very well. I got some good chuckles and a lot of Wes Anderson goodness, and the ingredients were certainly there for a great film, but as far as Wes Anderson movies go, it’s okay.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.