I’ve always loved piano movies. Like many people, I played piano as a child, only to give it up and regret it years later. The title alone was enough to make me want to see Grand Piano, and when it was recommended as a thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock (one of my all-time favorite directors) my enthusiasm peaked.
Directed with flair by Spanish composer-turned-director Eugenio Mira, and starring Elijah Wood, Grand Piano made it’s big screen debut in September 2013 at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX. Unbeknownst to me, the movie has been available on demand for nearly two months. I caught a matinee in it’s limited release at the Alamo Drafthouse, and I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen.
Wood plays concert pianist Tom Selznick, a one-time rising star making his big comeback after an on-stage meltdown. As he starts his performance, he receives threats stating that if he plays even a single note wrong, he and his wife will be killed. There’s a sniper in the building and he’s the one calling the shots. To up the ante, the piece of music Tom must play is La Cinquette, “the unplayable piece” that he had issues with 5 years earlier. The sniper’s motive is a mystery.
Grand Piano is preposterous at times, but it’s well-made and I was happy to go along for the ride. It kept me engaged with sweeping cinematography, vivacious classical music, and taut editing. It’s visually pleasing, with elegant lighting and a classy color palette. The way Mira uses the camera to make the most out of his confined setting recalls David Fincher’s Panic Room and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
The Hitchcock influence is felt from the opening title sequence. It feels more like De Palma channeling Hitchcock than straight up Hitch. When De Palma referenced the Master of Suspense, he did it with little restraint and much bravura. Grand Piano has a similar feel. There are also tinges of pulp and a bit of a “Saturday Matinee” vibe. Everything is a touch absurd or exaggerated. I like that it’s not afraid to go there. One could poke holes in the plot, but the pace is brisk and it’s too much fun to bother.
Elijah Wood is convincing as a pianist. It looks like he’s actually playing, which is more than you can say for a lot of stars “playing” instruments in movies. John Cusack does a fine job as the villain. I think it would’ve been cool if they left him off of the poster and kept him out of the advertising for the film. He speaks in a raspy, smug voice throughout and his face isn’t shown until the end. It would’ve made for a nice reveal.
Other supporting characters don’t fare as well. It is difficult to look at Alex Winter and see anybody but Bill from the Bill and Ted movies. His overacting could possibly be chalked up to the exaggerated tone of the film, but there’s nothing that can be said for Tamsin Egerton’s ultra hammy performance.
I recommend seeing Grand Piano in a theater if given the opportunity. The grand cinematography demands the biggest screen possible, and the theater setting is more like the concert hall in the film, providing better acoustics and enhancing the experience.
This is one of the better thrillers in recent memory. It’s also a damn fine piano movie. If you can get past how silly it is, you’re in for a good time.
I rate this film 3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
Essential Viewing: Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Stage Fright, Frenzy, Panic Room, Phone Booth
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