I'm a big fan of Wes Anderson's style, so suffice to say that this was one of my most-awaited films this year. It was worth the wait, as the film didn't disappoint despite having a few reservations about it. Anderson has basically bested himself, delivering a film that is the epitome of his work, the Wes Anderson of all his films. While it doesn't dethrone my ultimate favorite film of his, he definitely pushes his limits with this one, bringing another story and setting to life.
The film spans across four times lines, with each timeline marked by the changing of aspect ratios of the screen. Each timeline tells a story, the root of it all being the adventure and friendship of Zero, a lobby boy, and M. Gustav, the concierge of the prestigious The Grand Budapest Hotel. Their misadventure begins at the apparent death of Madame D., one of M. Gustav's many benefactors. She bestows a priceless painting, Boy with Apple to him, much to the chagrin of her immediate family, led by a goth-looking Dmitri. With the story lies a deeper tale, painted with the usual style of the director - the attention to detail, vividly portrayal of the setting, the symmetry of all things, down to the quirks that the director usually employs with his trademark. In terms of style, you wouldn't be disappointed, as he really takes his antics to a new level. I've always said that The Royal Tenenbaums might be his darkest work to date, but this clearly usurped it.
Ralph Fiennes seemed to be perfectly cast for the role, as the character required to be charismatic enough that even if you detest him, you'd still be able to wish him success. I've only seen a comedic side of Ralph Fiennes from In Bruges, and he was excellent with it, so I don't think he had a problem settling to the role. He was able to portray the role with finesse that it wasn't hard to imagine him in the role. Tony Revolori, who played Zero, complimented Fiennes' ways (though it irked me a bit that they cast a white man as an older version of him, while he was clearly a man of color). If his character was overplayed, it wouldn't have worked. In a way, both actors complimented each other without one taking most of the spotlight. In terms of minimal character, my favorite performances would have to be of Tilda Swinton (who really really played a small role, but she was good), Jeff Goldblum who played Deputy Kovacs, and Lea Seydoux, who had a small role as Clotilde. Anderson really topped the film with an all-star cast, with actors such as Willem Defoe (who technically is a secondary character - I'll get into that later) and Saoirse Ronan (who was very underused in the film).
Looking into it, despite it being about the relationship of Zero and M. Gustav, there really wasn't much a foundation to their relationship besides being Zero being a protege. Zero played a sidekick to Gustav's shenanigans and whims. Even if Gustav was the protagonist, there really wasn't much for his character to work with. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, content-wise, there's really not much to it at all. Even the mystery is not so much of a mystery because we were given glimpses of the conspiracy, but we're not given a back story. What is with this lady, and her family? Why was she killed? The film just quickly offed the story in favor of exhibiting more of Anderson's trademark shots. This is why the film seemed to be the most Wes Anderson of his works. It was really focused on style more than substance.
Which is why I ask, can there be too much Wes Anderson in a Wes Anderson film? The Grand Budapest Hotel clearly went beyond the confines of his limits - it went darker, bolder, brought to a new level. Suddenly some of his trademarks weren't so subtle anymore. Can there be too much of it that the film just seems like it's going 'here you go, everything you love about my films visually, thrown into a grandeur setting' and rubbing it into your face? While I enjoyed the vividly and symmetry and basically the whole grandeur of it, there was a point in the film that what he portrayed wasn't done tastefully anymore, or wasn't aesthetically pleasing. This was why I had a problem with how Willem Defoe's character was written, and the aftermath of his murders. We know that Dafoe plays a henchman, but his character's involvement in the film seems so forced that I suddenly find myself unappreciative of a character - a first for me. Don't get me wrong, Defoe is a good actor, and his portrayal makes his character deserve a spin-off, but at the latter parts his character seems to just no longer fit. It was if the character went to some killing spree, and the editing made him a character of interest, just to be terminated like that. He gets forced into the screen, without any story to back him up, that in the end, a supposed interesting character just gets tiring.
Now onto the murders. A horrid image that is an Anderson trademark is animal death. Usually when an animal dies in his films, the aftermath is shown for a brief second, and there usually isn't much gore and tons of blood flow. Which was why I was aghast at how this trademark was delivered in the film - and it was brought in scenes afterwards. Anderson clearly ventured on dark comedy, and there was a scene that was reminiscent of the film Se7en, where the iconic scene is played out. When the reveal was shown, I found it to be tasteless and off-putting. While I'm not comparing it to how Fincher portrayed the similar scene, but that could have gone better. I'm still a fan of Anderson's style, it's not something that could be completely removed because of my thoughts for this particular film, or the isolated cases I just mentioned. Unlike his previous works, the way he structured those worlds complimented the general atmosphere of the film, but The Grand Budapest Hotel allowed him to push through those limits. It comes to the matter of if he favored style over substance.
Despite it all, I still enjoyed it tremendously, compared to his previous venture. Sure, there were some parts that I thought were flawed, but as a whole, it was a good adventure. I wished he could have utilized the different timelines Anderson used - it was a good idea, but severely underused. This was a great effort, and I'm certain that he can top this one.
Final Word: This possibly be my third favorite work of his - I still have one more film to see (ironically, it's the most famous work of his) - but so far it's great. It could have used more content though, or a bit of a background story to further mold his character. With a gigantic cast, it's not hard to get overshadowed by other actors.
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric
Director: Wes Anderson