Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review 269: "Grand Piano"

Play or Die

Piano Noises

      Grand Piano is a 2014 thriller that saw a limited release back March. The film was directed by Eugenio Mira (The Birthday) and was written by Damien Chazelle (The Last Exorcism Part II). THe film follows famed concert pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), who after a breakdown years earlier, is finally ready to return to the stage and perform again. On the night of the big show, with his celebrity wife Emma (Kerry Bishe) and family Ashley (Tamsin Egerton) and Wayne (Allen Leech) in the audience and friend Reisinger (Don McManus) leading the orchestra, Tom finds a mysterious note on his sheet music, telling him that if he misses just one note, a sniper will kill him and his wife. Upon receiving an earpiece, Tom faces of with a mysterious criminal (John Cusack) as he fights to both keep playing and save his and his wife's lives. Man, no concert I went to was ever that exciting.

Oh no! The Titanic is sinking!
Odd One Out Now

      Often I have trouble with the idea a lot of people have that original is best. I mean sure, something being original is nice, but just being something new isn't really something I want to give points for. After all, there aren't a ton of entirely new ideas out there. So what I always like to see is someone taking an somewhat cliched genre and making it feel original. Cabin in the Woods did this with horror. Pacific Rim did this with the monster monster. And now, Grand Piano has done it with thriller in the vein of Speed. Odd genre, but whatever. It's not real surprise that the reason I loved Cabin in the Woods and Pacific Rim was because the films had strange idea executed perfectly. Both filmmakers behind them went completely for broke and completely sold me at least in their film. And Grand Piano really is a film worthy of joining their ranks.
      Perhaps the trickiest thing about Grand Piano is on simple it is. Most of the film takes place on one stage, only occasionally jumping into the audience, a dressing room or the lobby. And most of the film is just Wood talking to the disembodied voice of John Cusack. But through the sheer skill of all involved, the film feels like such an epic battle. Wood is terrific, playing Tom as both a scared performer worried they aren't good enough and a smart man not willing to just sit as he and his wife are in danger. It's a tough balance between confident and weak and Wood pulls it off like a natural.

Fantasia With More Killing

      Mira also proves himself to be a great director here. Like I said, most of the action is on Wood just sitting playing the piano and Mira takes what limited space he has and makes a terrifically suspenseful film. The creativity he has gives the film a really fun tone, amidst all the drama. The film always has a sense of urgency, as we watch Tom slowly start to unravel exactly what he's been drawn into and the desperate attempts for help. Even better, the film expertly blends the classical music score with the action, creating moments where the music and the film work as one. It might sound a bit lame, but I soon found myself tied to the music, getting more emotion and nervous depending on how the music plays. The film is a great mix of audio and visual thanks to some great direction. I never realized on cinematic piano playing looks until now.

 The Verdict

      Grand Piano might be a film that slipped past your radar and that's really too bad. Already it is one of the year's best films. It takes a simple premise and escapes the confinements of it's restricted action to create a truly suspenseful and exciting film that, while a tad predictable, is always an incredibly amount of fun. A lot of this is thanks to a great performance by Wood and some stellar direction by Mira. Combine all that with some great music, and you get a perfect thriller. Grand Piano gets 6 stars out of 6. 

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