A 'Grand' experience
‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ provides eclectic director Wes Anderson with his biggest palette yet
By Carl Kozlowski 03/06/2014
Over the course of seven prior films, Wes Anderson has co-written and directed some of the most unique movies of our time. From “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” through “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” his films create entire worlds of their own with highly eccentric characters, stylish dialogue, unpredictable plotlines and lavishly detailed production design.
Starting with the extremely low-budget heist comedy “Bottle Rocket,” the 1996 film that also introduced Anderson’s best friend Owen Wilson to the movie world as his star and co-writer, each of Anderson’s films have taken great leaps of scale in their worlds and subject matter. This weekend, his most epic work yet — “The Grand Budapest Hotel” —hits theatres, and he’s hit a homer by giving himself free creative rein with the first screenplay he’s ever penned fully solo.
Anderson loves to pretend his movies are adaptations of books that don’t actually exist, and that is the case again here. “Budapest” begins with a Young Writer (Jude Law) interviewing the hotel’s owner, Mr. Moustafa, about how he rose from the ranks of junior lobby boy to become the proprietor of the Grand Budapest — a series of events that came about from his long-ago status as an assistant to its legendary concierge, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes).
The main action is kicked into gear with the sudden and mysterious death of an 84-year-old countess named Madame D (Tilda Swinton), with whom Gustave has been carrying on a secret affair amongst his many sexual exploits. A battle over her vast fortune ensues with Gustave being named an heir and the Madame’s son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) leading the charge to stop Gustave from getting a dime.
Dmitri and his henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) frame Gustave for Madame D’s death and have him shipped to a prison with muscle-bound killers and a moat filled with crocodiles. Gustave has to break free and team up with both Zero — the young version of Mr. Moustafa — and a secret society that includes Bill Murray to clear his name and win what is rightfully his.
That’s only the half of it, folks, for it is in the absurd details throughout that Anderson’s movie really shines. He and Hugo Guinness, who conceived the storyline with Anderson before he took over the actual script, ambitiously weave a tale that has countless parallels to the history of 1930s Europe, with spoofs of Nazis, communists and secret societies.
Anderson has noted that he decided to take this boldest of career leaps thus far due to the influence of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer. At the height of his literary career in the 1920s and 1930s, Zweig was one of the most famous writers in the world.
Zweig specialized in characters searching for personal freedom against encroaching governmental authority while the Nazis rose to power. Similarly moved by the rampant release of news stories of NSA surveillance and other government abuses in our own time, Anderson has crafted a parable that not only awes the eyes but surprisingly moves the mind.
He also engages in wild action sequences for the first time, bringing cartoonish chases between snowmobiles and sleds racing down ski slopes to life. And yet “Budapest” never loses its whimsical heart, as production designer Adam Stockhausen brings every location and costume to vibrant life with vivid colors and humorously detailed costume designs.
As you can already see, nearly every role is played by a movie star and often one with an Oscar nomination or statue to boot, with F. Murray Abraham, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tom Wilkinson and Jason Schwartzman rounding out the cast. Pulling that level of talent together and still finding a way to let each of them shine without stepping on each other’s toes is an accomplishment in itself.
And with all that going for it, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is one place worth checking into.