I’ll preface this review by saying that if you’ve seen any Wes Anderson movie and not enjoyed it, then I can’t recommend this movie to you. You might as well stop reading now and ignore this film. However, if you are a fan or have not seen any of his films, then I cannot recommend this enough. Anderson has continually been perfecting his craft to deliver film treats that are truly unique from any other filmmaker.
Before I go into the film, I think I should make a case for Wes Anderson’s style that many don’t seem to respect. Anderson is not just a writer and director, he’s an auteur. Each one of his films has this charm, it’s either the dialogue, the color scheme, or both that give each movie a little piece of what Anderson is about. Not many other directors can really say this; in modern times, I would say Quentin Tarantino is similar in the way his long, tense shots and ultraviolence are part of what makes his work his own. These people pride themselves in not being cookie cutter filmmakers, and I applaud them for it. Anderson seems to be on a hot streak currently as well, with his last two films, a stop motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and an original picture about coming of age, Moonrise Kingdom. So it would be no surprise for this film to be on the same level as the others, and I am very happy to say that it is.
The film takes place in the present, with a girl paying respect to a writer’s memorial. Then the girl opens up one of the author’s books, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and begins to read it. We are now transported to the realm of the book, where the author is in his home office, setting the stage for a story during his youth. From there, we are shown the young author making a visit to the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968. At the hotel, he meets the mysterious Zero Moustafa, at one time the richest man in the country, and now the owner of the decrepit hotel. Moustafa invites the author to dinner and explains how he came to own the hotel, allowing for a final shift in time to 1932. It is at that time that Moustafa is a lobby boy and assistant to Monsieur Gustave H., the devoted concierge who has a habit of womanising elderly blonde guests of the hotel. In the beginning of the film, one of Gustave’s most devoted guests dies and bequeaths a priceless painting to him. This opens up a story of mystery, murder, and love that forces Gustave and Moustafa to run around the country from the authorities, as well as a hired killer. This story is unlike any I’ve seen Anderson undertake. Anderson takes on such a grim tone, overall the piece is darker than any others he’s made, and it truly makes a world of difference.
Anderson has always been able to get great actors and locations for his films, and this is no exception. With a cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, and Jeff Goldblum, just to name a few. The setting is the fictional Zubrowka, an alpine state, clearly based on Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. In fact, the entire movie was filmed on location in Germany to give the interior and outdoor scenes the most authentic feel possible, and it works. If the location Anderson desired could not be created, certain shots would be created as miniatures to establish the environment, with these scenes appearing sparsely throughout. The reason for this is a style choice by Anderson, he didn’t want to use CGI to create an extravagant hotel or mountain peak because he knew these would appear fake to the viewer, so he decided miniatures would fit better with the theme. I think this choice works with the style of the film and the fact that it is being told in a set of stories.
Anderson is expected by many to use familiar actors like Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray as large roles in his films. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, these actors do appear in short supporting roles, however, the main characters are all played by newcomers to Anderson, and in one case, a relative unknown. The role of the older Moustafa is played by F. Murray Abraham, famous for his Academy Award for Best Actor as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus. However, he hasn’t been active until recently, starring in this film as well as the Coen brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis. Monsieur Gustave H. is portrayed by Fiennes, who steals each scene with his charisma and unending confidence in the face of any trouble. But the biggest surprise is Tony Revolori, who has never held a major role in a movie or television show, cast as the young Moustafa. His subtle naivety and innocence represents a grounding force to Fiennes’s egotistical, and sometimes morally questionable, character. The only problem I had with the story was that there was a lack of any compelling villains. Dafoe is scary, but the guy looks menacing in general so that’s unsurprising. As well, Brody was certainly brutish, but he wasn’t portrayed as an ultimate evil, like Dafoe. Those characters only acted as a vehicle to allow more interactions between Gustave and Moustafa, but I don’t think that’s a good excuse to sacrifice such an important part of the story.
This is a movie truly unlike any Anderson has put out, perhaps because it was co-written with his constant art advisor, Hugo Guinness, who has helped craft Anderson’s aesthetic. Needless to say, if you are a fan of Anderson’s work, this may be one of the best movies he has ever created. If you haven’t experienced any of his films, then this is the place to start.