Five Star Service

 

Ralph Fiennes

 

At various stages, if you wanted a quirky movie, you could rely on David Lynch, Tim Burton and the Coen Brothers.

But now it seems if you want a quirky movie, you have to turn to Texan, Wes Anderson.

Like Lynch, Burton and the Coens before him, Anderson is one of those filmmakers who can divide audiences.

Some people revel in his carefully constructed comedies.

Others find him too clever for his own good.

Few will have seen his 1996 debut ‘Bottle Rocket’ – a comedy thriller with Owen and Luke Wilson and James Caan that was championed by Martin Scorsese as one of the best movies of that decade.

More will have seen his delightful 1998 oddball comedy, ‘Rushmore’ with Jason Schwartzman as a precocious teenager struggling to excel at Brian Cox’s private school, striking up an unlikely friendship with Bill Murray’s wealthy businessman and hopelessly in puppy love with Olivia Williams’ first grade teacher.

Many will have seen his 2001 follow-up ‘The Royal Tennenbaums’ with Gene Hackman as the self-centred patriarch in a neurotic family of child proteges who have failed to reach their potential – the adult versions played by Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson.

In 2004, he gave us Bill Murray as a Jacques Cousteau style oceanographer in ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’ – a film which failed to repeat the modest box office success of its predecessor.

Three years later, he recruited Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody as brothers travelling through India on a mystic train journey in ‘The Darjeeling Limited’.

Then, in a surprise move, the director turned to stop start animation in 2009 with George Clooney and Meryl Streep in his sophisticated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Fantastic Mr Fox’.

In 2012, Anderson delivered Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton as adults trying to track down a runaway New England boy scout and his 12 year old girlfriend in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’.

With each movie, Anderson has collected actors for his cinematic repertoire company.

Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Seymour Cassel and Bill Murray have been around the longest.

But over the years, Anjelica Huston, Luke Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Brian Cox, Michael Gambon, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Larry Pine and Bob Balaban have all turned up more than once in various Anderson films.

Anderson’s movies are also distinctive for their garish sets and costumes, Robert Yeoman’s angular cinematography and their offbeat humour.

He likes to break his films up into chapters and his latest movie, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is no exception.

In fact, it is his most ambitious narrative to date – a glorious Russian doll of a movie with several narratives going on at once.

The movie begins with a teenage girl reading a book, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, by a celebrated unnamed author at a monument to him.

Anderson then cuts to the author, played as an older man by Tom Wilkinson, who starts to narrate the story before handing over to his younger self played by Jude Law.

The younger author tells the story of his encounter with F Murray Abraham’s Zero Moustafa, the ageing owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel – a garish hotel that has seen better days.

When the author and Moustafa agree to have dinner, Law’s character learns the story of how Zero became the richest man in the fictional Eastern European state of Zubrowka which the author relays to us in a voiceover.

Moustafa’s story chronicles his rise from his humble beginnings as a bellboy when the Grand Budapest Hotel was at its most opulent in 1932.

Zero, played as his younger self by Tony Revolori, falls under the wing of Ralph Fiennes’ suave concierge, Gustave.

It soon becomes clear that Gustave is more than just a concierge but is also a gigolo who beds many of the wealthy, elderly ladies who stay in the hotel.

Gustave becomes embroiled in a scandal when regular guest Tilda Swinton’s Madame D dies and leaves him in her will a celebrated and extremely valuable painting ‘The Boy with the Apple’.

This angers her family – most notably Adrien Brody’s hot headed Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis and Willem Dafoe’s psychotic henchman JG Jopling – who frame the concierge for her murder, claiming he poisoned her.

Gustave and Zero hide the painting in the hotel but when the concierge is arrested by Edward Norton’s policeman Inspector Henckels, they must find Madame D’s servant Serge X, played by Matthieu Almaric, who holds key information that could save him.

Anderson and fellow screenwriter Hugo Guinness deliver a brilliantly constructed tale with the help of a stunning central performance by Fiennes – a normally intense actor who shows hitherto unseen comic timing.

In what is easily one of his best and most surprising performances, Fiennes seems to channel the spirit of debonair English stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

There’s more than a hint of Cary Grant and even a touch of Basil Rathbone and George Sanders.

He is aided and abetted by Revolori’s pitch perfect performance as the naive bellyboy Zero.

However in this glorious confection, all the cast rises to the occasion and are a joy to watch from Norton’s determined inspector to Brody’s hot headed villain, from Saoirse Ronan as the young Zero’s love interest to Swinton’s decaying grandee, from Jeff Goldbum’s fastidious lawyer to Willem Dafoe’s unhinged assassin, Matthieu Almaric’s frightened servant to Harvey Keitel’s tough bald headed inmate.

There are nice cameos too from fellow Anderson alumni Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and Owen Wilson as various concierges.

Law, Abraham and Wilkinson also play their part, anchoring the film as the narrators.

Anderson’s pacy plot never lets go of its audience, thanks to cinematographer Robert Yeoman’s striking visuals and Barry Pilling’s smart editing.

And while the film may evoke the spirit of the sophisticated comedies of Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks and Ernst Lubitch, like most Anderson movies it still feels refreshingly original.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is Anderson’s most satisfying live action film since ‘Rushmore’ and has many laugh out loud moments.

It is also his most grisly film – a scene where Dafoe confronts Goldblum will leave you wincing.

If there is any justice, Fiennes should be on the Best Actor shortlists when awards season kicks off early next year.

However Anderson and Guinness should be recognised too for a stylish comic fable which manages to wring more laughs in five minutes than many crude Hollywood studio comedies.

Take some advice. Make a reservation for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’.

Leave a Reply