'Grand Budapest Hotel' reveals Anderson's dark side

Fox Searchlight

By Karsten Smolinski, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 30, 2014

Don’t get fooled by the bright pink, soft purple color palette and gorgeous storybook set pieces. Featuring international war and cloak and dagger murder, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” contains more dark, grisly material than any previous Wes Anderson film. Though the film’s more mature themes compliment the director’s patent absurdity, the fast pace and massive cast leave many of the character relationships — the cornerstone of most Anderson films — with very little time for their own maturation.

The Grand Budapest Hotel


B+
Fox Searchlight
State Theater


The story begins with Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows”), a world-class concierge who gets his kicks diddling wealthy older women, adopting the impressionable, young lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori, “The Perfect Game”) as his protégé. Together, they keep the legendary Grand Budapest Hotel running smoothly, and the guests perfectly happy (especially the rich, wrinkly cougars). When the murder of one of Gustave’s special patrons — played by an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton (“Moonrise Kingdom”) — lands the colorful Gustave H. in a bleak, grey prison, however, the duo must race against the film’s black leather clad villains to clear his name.

With severed appendages, death squads and a carpeting of F-bombs, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” marks a departure from whimsical tone of most of Wes Anderson’s work. Usually, the strong sense of community that pervades Anderson’s films eschews the presence of any true villains, opting instead to recognize even the hero’s rivals and enemies as integral components. This time, the bad guys of “Grand Budapest,” followed wherever they go by an ominous, thundering orchestra, appear beyond redemption.

The startlingly gory violence perpetrated by the thickly accented villains — portrayed by Adrien Brody (“The Darjeeling Limited”) and a perfectly malevolent Willem Dafoe (“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”) — melds well with the quick, irreverent pace and makes for some well-executed black humor. Unfortunately, the plot’s ceaseless forward drive also rushes past a few of the film’s more poignant points. When Zero reveals his tragic past to Gustave, the dialogue flies at a steady “not a second to breathe” clip, resulting in a disappointingly detached moment that lacks in genuine feeling.

Anderson does manage some rather sweet moments. At one point, the much older version of Zero (F. Murray Abraham, “Amadeus”) breaks off his recounting of the story, his face streaming with tears, to reveal that he cannot contain his emotions whenever he thinks of his lost love Agatha (Saoirse Ronan, “The Lovely Bones”). The audience’s deserved apathy toward his relationship with Agatha somewhat dulls her beautiful performance. Anderson constantly tells the viewers that she is a lovely person, but fails to take the time to really show her loveliness. In fact, the vast majority of the cast receives very little characterization, which leaves the cursory appearances of Anderson movie veterans such as Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, and of other stars such as Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson and Léa Seydoux, feeling like a cheap marketing gimmick.

Despite the unnecessary ensemble cast and the more graphic material, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is through and through a Wes Anderson gem. The normally colorful auteur’s attempt at a more thematically mature and gruesome film pays off with its deadpan dark comedy and more somber, saddening approach to aging, loss and loneliness. It’s good to see Anderson himself moving past his comfort zone, and “Grand Budapest” excites the possibilities for his future projects. Hopefully, Anderson’s films will continue to mature as he ages, without the loss of that incredible warmth that makes his films so appealing.