|Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.|
The picture begins in 1968 as a writer (Jude Law) relays his run-in with the owner (F. Murray Abraham) of the once-great palatial titular structure who, in turn, tells of how he came to inherit the hotel. The story flashes back to 1932, where the action is primarily set, and Abraham's character is a young bellboy named Zero (Tony Revolori) who comes under the tutelage of one Mr. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a dandyish concierge at the hotel who makes no secret of the fact that he beds many of the elderly female clientele, including the 84-year-old Madame D. (Tilda Swinton).
Gustave and, to an extent, Zero find themselves in a quandary after the octogenarian winds up murdered and Gustave, much to the dismay of the woman's greedy family - which includes Adrian Brody and a sinister enforcer played by Willem Dafoe - inherits "Boy with Apple," a priceless piece of artwork.
Since this is a Wes Anderson movie, cameos abound, including Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum (whose bad luck extends to his cat and his hand), Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel and a slew of other characters, most notably Bill Murray, during a wonderful sequence in which a group of concierges come to Gustave's rescue.
And, of course, the film is impeccably shot with the stylistic pans and tracking shots you'd expect from an Anderson film as well as the dollhouse establishing shots, including an especially lovely one of a dining hall that is repeated twice. Anderson's signature humor is also on display here. "Grand Budapest" is, perhaps, the director's funniest in a while. The biggest laugh for me came early when a young boy interrupts a monologue. Trust me, you'll know it when you see it.
Given the timeframe in which the picture is set, Anderson's latest is a bit heavier and sadder than his previous works and more tragic. The hotel's newest denizens toward the end of the story merely play a small role in this film's narrative, but they'll go on to haunt Europe for more than a decade. And at least two characters are lost to the continent's horrors of the 1930s.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" is a wistful, funny, imaginative and wonderfully acted (Fiennes gives what may be his most humane performance to date) bildungsroman with an historical backdrop. If "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" remain my two favorites of Anderson's films, this one would likely join "Bottle Rocket" or the underrated "Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" in the second tier.