Wes Anderson's camera moves are almost robotic. The precision and the
fluidity seem to come from a pre-programmed computer, executing turns,
pans and tilts, tracking and dolly shots with mechanical perfection. The
narration and directness of cinematography, typically shooting scenes
straight-on, always perpendicular, never at acute angles, create a kind
of distance or coldness. Yet, the production design, the once art
direction, is always so warm and rich, and as colorful as the decorative
cakes, which become a crucial plot point. The movie at first feels like
a fanciful and ornate documentary, especially in the editing at the
That quickly goes away, as the film settles into its comedic story of a concierge and his trusted lobby boy who try to clear the concierge's name after he's accused of murder, as well as get away with an actual crime of art theft. With Bill Murray popping up in typical Wes Anderson fashion, this is perhaps what The Monuments Men should have been.
The whole film feels so theatrical and so controlled. It literally feels like I'm watching something performed on a stage and that I'm sitting not too far from the lighting director who is making the most ostentatious lighting cues. The cues help to draw focus to characters like the one played by F. Murray Abraham who quite frankly needs no such help. Abraham can draw focus all by himself, but Anderson feels the need to be showy and to orchestrate tricks.
This would have been fine, if they didn't seem to overpower and eclipse the actors with the possible exception of Ralph Fiennes who plays Gustave, the well-perfumed and well-spoken, if not overly verbose and poetic, concierge of the titular establishment. Fiennes essentially plays a well-connected gigolo who is accused of being gay and doesn't deny it. He's secure enough in his heterosexuality that he can embrace it and even produce an affectation that makes one think that maybe he could be gay. He's almost like Jack Black in Bernie, if Bernie were straight and ran a fancy hotel like a well-oiled machine.
And, that's what this film is. It's a well-oiled, boxed-in machine. The mechanics of which are frequently on display that it did feel like I was watching something being put together in a factory. Nothing felt genuine or real. It was all seemingly assembled and fake where there was no tension or danger, and the two lead characters felt more like walking jokes than real people. They had no depth, just Anderson's usual quirks.
Anderson attempts to weave a murder mystery that's not very mysterious. He makes the true bad guy so obvious that like Muppets Most Wanted, his last name might as well have been "bad guy." There are moments when Anderson attempts horror and he succeeds at being shocking, but Anderson's violence, especially his bloody and brutal violence doesn't gel with his Who Framed Roger Rabbit style ending. The fact that his bloodshed and even decapitation are played for laughs is rather offensive. Anderson should perhaps learn from David Fincher who in Seven had the decency to not show a woman's severed head in a box. Here, Anderson has no such restraint.
I also get a Stanley Kubrick vibe here. It was when Adrien Brody who plays Demetri, the son of the murder victim, walks through the halls of the hotel. The Grand Budapest could have been mistaken for the Overlook Hotel because for some reason I got flashbacks to Jack Nicholson in The Shining (1980). It's not with Demetri, but there is similarly a climatic encounter in the snow too.
The relationship between Gustave and his lobby boy named Zero, played by Tony Revolori, seemed to echo the relationship between Edward Norton and Jared Gilman in Moonrise Kingdom (2012), except I never felt like I got into the head of Zero, despite the narration being all from his elder self's point-of-view. Again, Fiennes rises above a lot of it, but still Gustave and Zero felt like walking jokes than real people with depth. As such, I couldn't empathize with them or really care much about them. This is not the case for his main characters in Moonrise Kingdom, a far better film than this.
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.