By Jay Sizemore
Wes Anderson has managed to do something truly remarkable; he has effectively created his own genre of motion picture. That genre is “Wes Anderson movies”. There’s simply no one else making movies like this. He has gradually been refining and retooling his method and style, becoming more and more eccentric, punchy, and perhaps cartoonish in his stylisation, while increasingly making his stories more metaphorical and nostalgic. In the past his work was critiqued rather unfairly for being all style and no substance, even though practically every movie he has made has become a cult classic. His last three films, including this one, show a director at the peak of his game, a creative genius who has finally convinced viewers and critics alike of his talent.
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, every scene is so painstakingly crafted visually, you can take a still shot of any moment and see the symmetrical structuring of the image, the way the perspective is aligned for depth. Anderson still artfully uses miniatures and matte paintings for dramatic effect. There are so many gorgeous or visually arresting moments, you can’t help but become enamored, filled with a sense of wonder. The truly great thing about all this attention to detail is it never detracts from the heart of the story being told. Unlike other modern directors, who let actor performance and script play second fiddle to visual flair, Anderson wisely manages to balance all elements for the complete package.
Many of his usual entourage have returned to play characters in this one, from Bill Murray to Jason Schwartzman and even Edward Norton, who wears what some might notice to be a Fantastic Mr. Fox medallion around his neck. The story, told in a breathtaking hour and a half, gives us the unusual circumstances leading to the current ownership of the hotel in question, and manages to tell a complex and witty narrative in what would have taken other directors at least three hours. The dialogue is sharp and the action is edited with snappy precision, constantly keeping the audience on its toes as the story is propelled relentlessly forward, ensuring that there is never a dull moment to be had. It is fun, heartwarming, and basically a blissful movie experience.
If I had to point out one flaw in the film, it would be how the character of Zero, played by actor of Guatemalan descent Tony Revolori, grows up into a man called Mr. Moustafa played by the entirely different looking F. Murray Abraham. This isn’t something that needs to be held against the greatness of the total experience of the movie, but it is a detail I found myself asking as I watched it. Was it meant to symbolise how Moustafa became more like Ralph Fiennes’ Gustave H., the hotel owner to whom he is heir? I don’t know, but it appeared just to be a lapse in casting continuity for the sake of hiring Abraham. At any rate, the movie is marvellous, easily one of Anderson’s best films, and easily the best film of 2014 so far. Go see it.
Jay Sizemore is a film critic for the magazine.