"The Grand Budapest Hotel": Craig's First Take

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The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
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There’s a scene in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” where the main character and his protégé careen down a steep ski slope on the trail of a violent psychopath. It’s as apt an example of how the movie works as I can come up with. It has thrills, it’s absurdly funny, and it moves at a break neck speed that keeps us on our toes for the entire run time. Oh, it also has some heart to it, and to me anyway (Anderson’s loyal fan base may disagree), feels like the closest the director has come to breaking out of his comfort zone since “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Having not one, but two narrators (one is an author in 1985, played by Tom Wilkinson, who introduces us to his younger self, played by Jude Law, who meets a reclusive hotel owner, played by F. Murray Abraham, who tells us of the events of 1932.), everything takes place at the historic Crowne Budapest Hotel, where it’s concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) meticulously makes sure everything is shipshape while also sleeping with and becoming very close to the rich, old, insecure, blonde women that come through the hotels doors as guests.

One such woman is Madame D. (a heavily make-upped Tilda Swinton), who has a terrible premonition during her last visit and keels over dead soon after. Gustave has been her most trusted friend for years and is not surprised to discover that she has left him a priceless painting. Her family however, who from the outset all look like leather-clad, gothic super villains before they even do anything, don’t like it and accuse Gustave of murder. They include her son (Adrien Brody) and his accomplice (Willem DaFoe).

Anderson gives us chases, murder, prison escapes, and mystery here in what amounts to live-action cartoons doing their goofy best in a sorta-thriller. Harvey Keitel (prison inmate), Jeff Goldblum (lawyer), Edward Norton (police constable), Saoirse Ronan (a baker in the hotel) and Bill Murray (another hotel concierge) each take on small roles but leave the heavy lifting to Fiennes. Gustave’s refinement and attention to detail at times give way to just the right amount of likability and caddishness. He also has fantastic chemistry with Tony Revelori, as his new lobby boy, Zero, who is training under Gustave and accompanies him on this wild chase through Eastern Europe in order to save him.

In what may be the oddest part of the movie though, Anderson has all these screwball antics lead us right up to the start of World War 2 (what a great way for something so ridiculous to end, right?), but up until that point Anderson has made a very funny comedy, complete with thrilling plotting, nice in-door decors (some outdoor shots were actually scale models), some heart, and a cast that seems to be having a grand old time. It’s one of the most entertaining films he’s made in quite a while.