MRR Review: "Grand Piano"
on 2014-03-17 17:00
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Directed by: Eugenio Mira
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
"Grand Piano" is a solid intellectual thriller that explores the complexities of human emotions. The film follows the life of Tom, a skilled pianist who struggles with a profound fear of failure. When outside forces threaten him, Tom must choose to overcome his weaknesses or lose what is truly important to him.
The opening scenes of "Grand Piano" show a flashback of Tom Selznick, played by Elijah Wood, failing to perform in front of a large audience. The film then moves forward five years, when it is revealed that Tom has not performed since that night. With the encouragement of his wife, Emma, and his mentor, Boudreaux, Tom begins preparing for his return to the limelight. On the night of his performance, as Tom begins to play, he sees a note on his music sheet that reads: "play one wrong note and you die." With his life on the line, Tom begins playing the piece.
As the concerto continues, Tom is anonymously given an earpiece, and contacted by a man who claims he is sitting in the audience, holding a gun. In between intermission and the conclusion of the performance, Tom tries to uncover the motives of the man in the audience and prevent his wife, who is in the audience, from being harmed. As the film comes to a close, Tom learns the shocking truth and struggles to stop the man before it is too late.
Elijah Wood takes center stage, literally and figuratively, throughout the film. His wide-eyed portrayal of Tom is realistic and easy for the audience to identify with. Wood does a fantastic job of transforming his character from paralyzed by fear to heroically taking control of his life. The pre-production preparation for this role is also evident in Wood's performance. He plays the piano passionately and realistically, without seeming to miss a single key.
The ever-present villain, played by John Cusack, creates suspense without even making an appearance until the last scene. However, Cusack's chilling voice alone keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Unfortunately, when he is exposed, Cusack's character is revealed to be an average man rather than a real threat, which is very anticlimactic.
Although the supporting cast members make only brief appearances, they all add depth to the plot. Veteran actor Kerry Bishé does an excellent job of portraying Tom's successful movie star wife. Her character provides a stark contrast to Tom's failure. The main cast is rounded out by Allen Leech, who plays the eccentric Boudreaux.
Director Eugenio Mira uses a bit of irony to add depth to a film that mostly takes place during a single day. For example, as Tom is shown preparing for the concerto, he is repeatedly told to "break a leg." These comments only add to his fear. However, Tom ends up literally breaking his leg later that night, but not due to his performance. Instead, he becomes injured while saving his wife.
With a limited cast, Mira focuses on characters that would normally go unnoticed to exemplify the emotions and thought process of the main character.The scene showing a concertgoer watching a video of Wood's failed performance rather than paying attention to the performance in front of him is just one example. This scene reflects what is going on in Tom's mind. He is too focused on his failure to see the potential for success in his comeback performance.
The score, written by Victor Reyes, perfectly complements the film. As the suspense builds, the score transitions into sharp notes, and the classic start-stop effect featured in many thrillers. Although the score primarily utilizes the piano, backing instruments are added to enhance the onscreen concerto.
The set design is both stylish and simplistic. The stage, where the majority of the film takes place, features only the piano and the steady stream of the spotlight. This allows focus to be placed primarily on the tense situation the character is facing. However, the audience is given brief glimpses of the view from the stage. The concertgoers appear shadowed and ambiguous, which makes the thought of the sniper even more thrilling. These elements work together to make the main character more exposed, since there is only the piano to act as a shield. Ultimately, the set design and plot construction make the audience voyeurs. The audience watches as the onscreen audience critiques the character's performance.
Rating: 3 out of 5