A Review of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
By Jake Bann
Wes Anderson: a director who lets us know time and again exactly what we’re going to get in a Wes Anderson film. And yet, watching any one of his movies comes with an element of surprise. Along with the likes of Alexander Payne and David Lynch (to name two), you simply forget how good he is at nailing the genre, tone, and humor he’s created.
His latest, March’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, is no different. If anything, it’s a bigger and more opulent version of any of his films: quixotic, tightly packaged, and colorful. But is this so wrong? Is it so egregious that a filmmaker wouldn’t hasten to try something entirely different and instead build upon what he’s already built? To make his castle bigger? The answer: I guess not. And after eight films, I suppose these are futile questions anyway. It seems Anderson isn’t interested in lending himself to other styles and devices, but in lending other styles and devices to him.
Action, for one. One could say that Budapest is Anderson at his most action-y, but to call the movie an action film would be missing the point. Profanity. Yes, one could also say that Budapest is Anderson at his most profane, and, well, actually, one probably would have a point. But the real point is by employing different styles, devices, and new traditions—a frame narrative, three separate aspect ratios, some blood and gore, a whole lot of cursing and lewdness (replete with consenting lesbians and angry homophobes [thank you, Adrian Brody, I never thought I’d see the day])—we are still quite aware that we’re watching a Wes Anderson film and a film, no less. Take Anderson’s ultra-stylized production design, restless camera, and ensemble casts and place all three inside a castle on the fringes of a fictional, pink-and-purple-laden, Stefan Zweig-inspired, pre-war Europe, and you have The Grand Budapest Hotel. No change in time or scenery, I’m convinced, could take Anderson away from his Anderson-ness.
However, what you definitely have in The Grand Budapest Hotel that is wholly special, and not just a canonical Anderson appendage, is a hilarious, bedazzling Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H, the old lady-addicted, eloquently speedy concierge catapulted into a life of crime when he accepts a priceless painting bequeathed to him by an old woman whom the authorities presume he killed himself; Willem Dafoe as the deceased’s son’s creepy, ruthless, and hilarious henchman; and Harvey Keitel as the bald badass Gustave befriends in prison. First and foremost, it seems it’s the characters by which we distinguish Anderson’s films and by which, perhaps, we choose our favorites. Just as impressive is the writing and production team’s clear and extensive research into the works of Stefan Zweig, from which our frame narrative is drawn, and the old hotels of Eastern Europe as well. Watching the film, you can’t help but be brought back to reality by the sheer magnitude and splendor of these awesome sets.
Ultimately, what we’re looking at is another divisive (either you’re with him or you’re not) Wes Anderson film, perhaps the biggest of its kind. There’s a touch of love in the middle, a hint of sentimentality at the end (with some great dialogue from F. Murray Abraham as the grown-up, lovelorn apprentice to Gustave), and dark, quirky humor all over.
With cinematography by Robert Yeoman and Russian folk-inspired music by Alexandre Desplat.
Critic’s Rating: ★★★½ 3.5 out of 5 stars