The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel ★★★★½

Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" unfolds like a fantasia of pop-up book imagery and whimsical color. An unendingly detailed, jovially designed, and gleefully cast piece of work, the film is a treat for the eyes and ears. Though it keeps Anderson's standard, chilly emotional distance from its audience, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is a narratively appealing and visually thrilling winner.

Taking place mostly in the 1930s, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" tells the story of the titular hotel's masterful concierge, his plucky protege, and a bit of a situation in which the two find themselves. The situation involves last wills and testaments, stolen paintings, and a helpful secret society of concierges. The narrative has dark and light touches, but it offers mostly a kinetic symphony of beats, twists, and payoffs. It may not envelope its audience emotionally, but the story is rich and gleeful.

As fine as the narrative is, the focus of the film is obviously on its characters, dialogue, and aesthetic. Ralph Fiennes leads with Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, and Tilda Swinton in support. The characters are sharply drawn and wholly individual. Moreover, they are performed with energy and ease, speaking in robust torrents of memorable, somewhat anachronistic, character and tone defining dialogue.

Anderson composes each of his shots with lyrical, visual electricity. He seamlessly combines aspect ratios, color palettes, and period dressing as the film moves through its layered plot. The design and detail in each frame is sumptuous, engrossing, and overflowing with Anderson's brand of whimsy. It is all silly, artful, and amazing.

The skill with which "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is put together results in what will prove to be one of the richest cinematic experiences of 2014. By film's end, its copious attributes combine to tantalize the senses. Like most of Anderson's work, however, the film's concern with the artifice of look and storytelling prevent it from authentically touching the heart. Although when the artifice briefly parts to end the film, Anderson reveals a theme of loss to add to the already-present undercurrent of nostalgia. It is a warmly melancholic touch, adding genuine feeling to the excellent yet emotionally distant proceedings.

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