In theaters Friday, March 7
3 stars (out of 4 stars)
Director Wes Anderson's films are so artistically exquisite that they should be framed and mounted. And this effort — primarily set in a quaint European town in the fictional Republic of Zubrowskain the 1930s — may be his most astounding. For not only has the auteur delivered another intricately constructed visual feast, he adds a rich tale (one half murder-mystery, one half crime caper), and a healthy dose of madcap humor.
They don't make 'em like the Grand Budapest Hotel anymore. It's the kind of place that looks like a frosted castle burrowed under sparkles in a snow globe. It's also where genteel concierge Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) pampers his elderly female customers and takes pains to get to know them. This may or may not always be in the biblical sense.
The long-winded backstory doesn't perk up until Gustave's favorite client dies (Tilda Swinton in remarkable old-age makeup) and leaves him with a one-of-a-kind painting called Boy With Apple. Her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) forbids him from taking it; he swipes it anyway. Then promptly ends up in prison. (Only in Anderson's world could a drab jail be bolded by the sight of vividly colored square patisserie boxes delivered to Gustave.)
Gustave escapes and tries to clear his name by way motorcycles, a bobsled run (!), a cable car that runs in the mountains and a confession in a monastery booth. Not only is this a delightful sequence, it's an excuse for Anderson to employ his go-to ensemble, including Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. (Jason Schwartzman also has a droll cameo). Still, Fiennes is the one who leads the way with his effortless wit and comedic charm. In his final noble act, he makes a heartwarming and selfless gesture toward his bright-eyed young protégé, Zero. Yes, the sadistic Nazi from Schindler's List and Lord Voldemort himself! Who knew?
And like all Anderson films, the love is in the eccentric details — from the decorative cake slices to all those handcrafted, bright uniforms. Priceless stuff.