- The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) movie review: Wes Anderson expands his cinematic horizons – both visually and thematically – with this Central European-set comedy-drama that takes place in three different eras. As the titular hotel’s concierge, Ralph Fiennes delivers the most memorable characterization in an Anderson film.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel won four Academy Awards: Best Original Score, Production Design, Costume Design, and Makeup and Hairstyling. It was nominated for five other Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, and Film Editing.
The Grand Budapest Hotel movie review: Wes Anderson’s latest fanciful effort will surprise admirers & detractors alike
The mid-career winning streak of writer-director Wes Anderson continues with The Grand Budapest Hotel, a thrilling expansion of his thematic and visual palettes.
With The Grand Budapest Hotel, those who dismiss Anderson as an emotionally detached ironist spinning drolly modern tales using obsessively detailed production design and arch performances are in for a surprise. For here’s Anderson indulging in a flight of whimsical, Central European fancy that works in murder, art thievery, ski chases, and a melancholy tip of the chapeau to a long-ago time when chivalry, courtesy, and Old World elegance were the norm.
Anderson’s ambitions extend to the visuals, an endlessly flavorful bouillabaisse combining live action, miniatures, matte paintings, stop-motion animation, and plenty more. And it’s all anchored by Ralph Fiennes and his pitch-perfect reading of Gustave H., the titular hotel’s legendary concierge.
Not quite the Wes Anderson of old
The Grand Budapest Hotel is satisfying in ways we’ve come to expect from Wes Anderson, as well as in startling new ways that should win the 44-year-old director fresh acclaim from those who’ve yet to connect with his idiosyncratic, formalist style.
If 2012’s wonderful Moonrise Kingdom proved that Anderson – for all his deadpan, hipster humor – can convey emotional authenticity, The Grand Budapest Hotel proves he can stretch himself thematically, even if he dances around his darker ideas more than he dives in headfirst.
And, before the gushing begins in earnest, it must also be noted that as the complicated, fast-moving plot takes center stage, Anderson too often neglects the central relationship between Gustave and his young protégé, Zero (Tony Revolori).
Memorable Ralph Fiennes
Still, the movie contains, by a fair shot, the most memorable main character in the eight feature films Anderson has directed (sorry, Gene Hackman). Gustave lords over the opulent Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional republic of Zubrowka during its salad years before the fascist takeover of Europe in the 1930s.
A fastidious charmer of impeccable demeanor, Gustave is a man of principle (a fading quality, the movie will argue), who knows the hospitality business and the needs of his clientele. He’s also a man of surprising sexual appetites which seem to exclusively run towards the elderly dowagers who frequent his hotel.
When one of his aging paramours, Madame D. (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) drops dead in her guest room, she bequeaths Gustave a priceless Renaissance painting to the horror of her greedy family, led by vindictive son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody). From here, Anderson sends Gustave on a high-stakes, high-energy tour of Zubrowka to avoid his enemies which, late in the film, leads to an inspired sequence where he escapes trouble by enlisting a secret society of concierges, including Anderson mainstay Bill Murray.
Expansive cinematic world
Wes Anderson’s overly considered cinematic world has never felt so expansive, enveloping, and infectiously fun. (It has also never sounded so good, thanks to Alexandre Desplat’s delectable, hard-working score.) Oft-used tricks like lateral tracking shots, which can look tired or even lazy, feel fresh in this new, expanded context. And only a director as controlled as Anderson could keep this increasingly ridiculous, propulsive, and convoluted train from jumping the tracks.
Indeed, The Grand Budapest Hotel, written by Anderson from a story by himself and Hugo Guinness, takes place in three different eras, each presented in its own aspect ratio. In 1985, an aging author (Tom Wilkinson) recalls his 1968 trip to the Grand Budapest Hotel where he met its enigmatic owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Over dinner in the now-faded and lonely palace, Zero regales the author (Jude Law, as the younger Wilkinson) with the pre-WWII tale of how he first appeared at the bustling hotel from parts barely known to become its Lobby Boy under Gustave’s tutelage. As troubles mount for Gustave, Zero will repay his mentor’s guidance either by his own sincere, retiring self or with the help of his lady love, an innocent pastry chef (Saoirse Ronan) with a birthmark on her cheek in the shape of Mexico.
While no one would call The Grand Budapest Hotel a dark film, there is a level of darkness here that’s new for Anderson. It chops off fingers and lops off heads. When it’s not stomping down the street in the guise of Willem Dafoe, as the Desgoffe-und-Taxis family’s vicious assassin, it creeps in from the edges.
Anderson’s sense of whimsy is, unsurprisingly, too deep-seated for Hitler or the SS to make an appearance. This is not Ernst Lubitsch’s insolent To Be or Not to Be. But there’s still plenty of jackbooted violence that not only shadows Gustave as he runs, drives, and skis around Central Europe with a trumped-up murder rap over his head, but that also services the film’s theme of nobility lost. Not the king-and-queen kind of nobility, but the one about morals, principles, and ideals.
Here is Wes Anderson at his most convincingly wistful, which requires the viewer to look beyond his playfulness and highly artificial, meticulously constructed environments. Gustave, for every F-bomb that drops from his thin, refined lips, still graciously stops in the middle of a prison break to hear every word of Zero’s irrelevant ramblings. And he still greets the fascist soldiers checking for papers with a warm and genuine “Hello.”
As honor, integrity, and manners go, Anderson tells us, so goes the Grand Budapest Hotel.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) cast & crew
Director: Wes Anderson.
Screenplay: Wes Anderson.
From a story by Anderson & Hugo Guinness inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig.
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Edward Norton, Tom Wilkinson, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, Mathieu Amalric, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham, Jason Schwartzman, Tony Revolori, Larry Pine, Bob Balaban, Florian Lukas, Neal Huff, Fisher Stevens.
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman.
Film Editing: Barney Pilling.
Music: Alexandre Desplat.
Production Design: Adam Stockhausen.
Producers: Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steven Rales, and Scott Rudin.
Production Companies: Indian Paintbrush | Studio Babelsberg | American Empirical Pictures | TSG Entertainment.
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Running Time: 99 min.
Countries: United States | Germany.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Movie Review” endnotes
Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes The Grand Budapest Hotel movie images: Fox Searchlight.
The Grand Budapest Hotel movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) website.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Movie Review: Memorable Ralph Fiennes in Expansive Wes Anderson Comedy-Drama” last updated in September 2022.