In the 1930s, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) is the concierge at a famous European Hotel; The Grand Budapest. When one of his most beloved guests dies under seemingly mysterious circumstances, Gustave H and his faithful Lobby Boy Zero (Tony Revolori) are thrown into a world of suspicion and intrigue.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, although not based on any one story in particular. Instead, Wes Anderson has cherry picked many of the elements of Zweig’s work, and framed them in his own inimitable style. Ralph Fiennes is on wonderful, hilarious and manically precise form as Gustav H, the heart of the story, and the interactions between him and Revolori are not only hilarious and heart-warming, but also engaging and as silly as we would expect of an Anderson tale.
The rest of the cast is made up of Tom Wilkinson as the author of the story, Jude Law as his younger counterpart, Saoirse Ronan as the love of young Zero’s life and Willem Defoe as a thuggish hit man. As well as this impressive group, the film also stars Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Harvey Kietel, F Murray Abraham, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrian Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Lea Seydoux, Bob Balaban and a host of other Anderson regulars.
As is usual in Anderson films, it is not long before the entire story escalates and gets wonderfully out of control, and in any other hands this rambling and twisting story could be an utter mess. Anderson manages to keep the film under control through his usual precise and carefully observed storytelling. What emerges then, is a romantic and nostalgic version of Europe at the height of it’s elegance and stability, before wars came to confuse everything – although there is mention of this throughout the film. It also helps that Annie Atkins’s design and vision for the film are so strong, and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman returns to work with Anderson, and hold the whole thing together on a visual level.
In terms of the story, this is a Wes Anderson crime caper, if such a thing could be imagined, set in a world not unlike any of those that he has created before. Gone, however, are the touches of depression and suicidal tendencies that we have seen in his recent films. That said, there are great dollops of sadness throughout, as though these characters are aware that they are living in a world that is about to be violently shattered, and are determined to wring one last drop of joy out of their candy coloured home at the Grand Budapest Hotel.
Wes Anderson has created a precise, over the top and splendidly weird crime caper that is filled with nostalgia and comedy. Fiennes’s comic timing and meticulous depiction of a man desperately trying to hold on to an old world are wonderful, with the rest of the cast doing their work to perfection.