Very few directors these days are quite as consistently creative and spot-on as Wes Anderson, who has been developing his unique visual and storytelling style with impressive ensemble casts and quirky-looking fables over the years with no hiccup.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, his latest, was inspired by the stories and life of Stefan Zweig and tells the generation-defying tale of an iconic hotel and its nutty history. The film opens and we instantly flashback a couple of times from a little girl paying her respects to the statue of Tom Wilkinson's concierge, who ran the hotel in the 60's (back when he was... Jude Law), to that time where his younger self met the hotel's mysterious owner (played by F. Murray Abraham) and then we flashback even further to hear the latter's story in full. The focus becomes the young, newly hired lobby boy Zero (promising newcomer Tony Revolori) and his relationship with Ralph Fiennes' polite, professional gigolo poet concierge Gustave H. What follows is a farcical rollercoaster ride into a made-up Eastern European world put together with beautiful and clearly artificial matte paintings, backgrounds and models.
After Gustave's ageing lover dies unexpectedly (Tilda Swinton cameoing in full old lady make-up, by the way), the will reveals him to be the heir of a priceless painting and the deceased's shady family soon wants Gustave's head. But the painting is hidden, there's a murder investigation going on, a romance, a prison break and even a regime change so Gustave and Zero's lives are never dull from then on. It's a shame that Fiennes' completely charming and very funny turn in this will be forgotten come the next Oscars ceremony because he's rarely been this relentlessly fun and would definitely deserve a nod from the Academy at the very least.
As ever, our main protagonists are supported by a mind-blowing all-star cast which includes Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Edward Norton. Some of them have proper roles, like Dafoe, who gets to throw a cat out a window and slice off Jeff Goldblum's fingers in this, some of them pop up for a second but fit their part perfectly. Other cast members worthy of mention are Adrien Brody, the film's foul-mouthed villain, Saoirse Ronan (as Zero's beloved Agatha), Harvey Keitel and reliable French duo Mathieu Amalric (you'll remember him as Quantum Of Solace's bad guy) and Léa Seydoux. It's unlikely we'll see a better ensemble cast in a movie this year so try not to miss Wes Anderson's latest as that really would be a shame.
The film is fast-paced, very funny, boasts a razor-sharp script, inventive cinematography, it's never dull and even has a heart and point to it! What more could you ask for? One of the best things about the film is its unexpected bursts of dark comedy and harshness. One second you're enjoying an almost vaudevillian bit where random priests keep asking Gustave H to confirm his name, the next he's going "Oh f*** it...", a severed head is shown to us and a couple of people are stabbing each other in the gut. You never know what to expect with this movie and that's partly what makes it so interesting and so compelling. Whether it's Anderson's best or not is debatable but it's definitely right up there with the likes of The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited.
2014 is certainly off to a good start as Wes Anderson delivers yet another hit that's both very true to his own style but very much a Stefan Zweig piece of genial madness as well. It also happens to be a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable film with a heck of a lot going for it.
Don't miss it.