The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel ★★★★★

"There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity."

Wes Anderson has a distinct style. A very distinct style. Show anyone a 30-second snippet of one of his movies, from Bottle Rocket to Moonrise Kingdom, and they won't mistake it for the work of anyone else. His films exist in a world entirely their own, one that is meticulously designed and rigidly structured and shot like a storybook come to life. The books and shops and signs usually all bear the same font; why wouldn't they?

His latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is even more mannered than the others. Characters speak in long, convoluted sentences to express the simplest of emotions. No attempts have been made to make the exteriors of the grand hotel look like anything but a miniature set with a thousand moving pieces. It all seems so twee that for a while, I was afraid: Have his detractors been proven right? Has it finally happened? Has he gone full Wes?

At some point, everything clicked into place. From the very beginning, these over-the-top refinements are undercut by obscenity and chaos. The Grand Budapest's caretaker, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), is the very embodiment of "civilized"...yet he's a criminal and con artist, schmoozing elderly blonde guests to gain their trust. It pays off when Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies and leaves him with the extremely valuable painting Boy with Apple. This sets off a series of madcap adventures as Gustave and his faithful lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), scamper through increasingly violent situations involving Madame D.'s son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe).

Anderson has found new ways to operate within his own boundaries; what several years ago some critics regarded as limitations prove to be anything but. Putting it bluntly: for something so mannered, The Grand Budapest Hotel is goddamn insane. If you had told me a Wes Anderson movie would have one of my favorite shoot-outs, I would have called you crazy, but it does and here we are. That whole bit about obscenity and violence ain't nothin'; there's more language and blood here than in any other Anderson picture, made all the more shocking by how damn whimsical everything surrounding it is. Fiennes is utterly perfect for this sort of role. If his Schindler's List co-star Liam Neeson can reinvent himself as an action star, can we get more movies where Fiennes is a dashing rapscallion on the lam? Revolori is another fitting addition to Anderson's troupe, his wide-eyed confusion basically the Anderson Ideal. Many of Anderson's familiars are back, including Owen Wilson and Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. Most of them aren't around for long, but they'll put a smile on your face.

When Grand Illusion was re-released in theaters in the late '50s/early '60s, Jean Renoir filmed an introduction for contemporary audiences explaining why the warring soldiers are so friendly with one another. In a post-WWII world, such civility seemed anachronistic. Once upon a time, there were gentlemen in the trenches. It's a sentiment The Grand Budapest Hotel shares. As its characters are confronted with a world that's not nearly as refined as they would like, they have to come to terms with the fact that their world might never even have existed. And in typical Anderson fashion, this melancholy center is surrounded on all sides by some of the brightest, funniest moments you'll see all year.

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