New to cinemas – 7th March 2014
The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest addition to Wes Anderson’s catalogue of eccentric, meticulously crafted onslaughts of colour and comedy. It should come as no disappointment to fans of the director, whose previous highlights – Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr. Fox – have become strongly identifiable standards in the modern film canon. But Budapest‘s key identifier among an already considerable collection of worthy material is its almost sprawling cast, which stars some of the strongest actors currently working.
Of course, in a movie with 17 lead actors credited on its posters, there’s an apprehension that it may potentially result in a boatload of wasted talent. In some cases, these fears are confirmed – Bill Murray’s brief appearance towards the end feels almost routine, and roles such as Léa Seydoux’s shy French maid seem like almost bit-actor material; it’s an ostensibly puzzling choice to have one of cinema’s strongest emotional actresses in such a minute role.
But the benefit of this is that the Grand Budapest Hotel has familiar faces at every turn, essential for a filmmaker whose movies are celebrated for their warmth. The skill that each actor brings to the table also makes Anderson’s notorious perfectionism come a little easier, and his own capability for handling actors ensures that just about every performance is down to a tee. Even if the characters aren’t as well-crafted this time around – there’s nothing on the level of Royal Tenenbaum or Max Fischer – the finesse on display by this incredible stable of performers makes Grand Budapest a great experience.
It’s also one of Anderson’s most exclusively plot-heavy endeavours, following a complex story spanning many genres that were popular in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Indeed, this era was the biggest inspiration for Budapest, which is even presented in the traditional Academy ratio (1:37) and references the exoticism of the bigger budget American productions during the ’30s, particularly the work of Josef von Sternberg. Trapping the main story within three internal narratives – a woman reads a book in which a man tells story about a hotel owner he met in his youth (who told him a story) – enhances the notion of nostalgia, or being privy to someone else’s nostalgia, and playfully riffs on the fantastic inflections a story can pick up over time.
Ultimately, the Grand Budapest Hotel stands among the B-grade in the grand scheme of Anderson’s filmography, yet by any standard it’s pretty great entertainment that plays on Hollywood’s greatest and most famed movie tropes, decorating them in a vibrant and highly personal vision. With the Oscar movies on their way out of exhibition, or having already been watched to saturation, Budapest will alleviate the post-awards season blues, and is a strong movie to head off what is usually a slow season in the cinema year.
The Grand Budapest Hotel was written and directed by Wes Anderson, and stars Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson and Tony Revolori. It lasts for 99 minutes, and is a production of American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, Scott Rudin Productions and Studio Babelsberg. Distributed in the UK by Fox Searchlight.