Wes Anderson fans old and new can appreciate newest release

Wes Anderson’s films define quirky filmmaking. Ranging from a dysfunctional family in “The Royal Tenenbaums” to a documentarian out for revenge in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” from the animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” to the 1960s preteen love story “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson has made himself a staple in modern cinema. With visible influences from Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic thrillers to the screwball comedies of Hollywood’s golden age, Anderson’s latest film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is no exception.

Set in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka, the film opens in the late 1960s, where a writer (Jude Law) arrives at the titular hotel, now a slowly decaying and cavernous shell of its glory days. He sits down for dinner with the hotel’s enigmatic owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who tells him the story of how the hotel once was. Flash back to the 1930s, where the Grand Budapest is a booming business and young “lobby boy-in-training” Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori) works under the watchful eye of the hotel’s concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. Played in an inspired bit of casting by Ralph Fiennes, Gustave is flamboyant, slick, charming and cultured. He’s particularly popular amongst the hotel’s elderly female guests, who receive a service Gustave just sees as part of a concierge’s job.

When one of these guests, the wealthy Madame Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Tilda Swinton), is found mysteriously murdered, Gustave finds himself on the run and brings the young Zero – by this time in a relationship of his own with a local baker (Saoirse Ronan) – along for the ride. From here on out, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” becomes many things: a thriller, a screwball comedy and a buddy movie. But Anderson – who wrote the screenplay alongside Hugo Guinness – adds a subtle, political and somber undertone to the film that makes it all the more poignant: Gustave and Zero mourn the disappearance of “the last glimmer of civilization” as the first rumblings of war begin to erupt around their beloved hotel and the landscape they know and love begins to take a turn for the worse.

As with all of his films, Anderson has united a star-laden ensemble to bring his words to the screen, and he couldn’t have picked a better crew for this film. While Fiennes – given a chance to flex his comedic chops and delivering a performance among his best – is no doubt the movie’s top performer, Revolori does a good job as his protégé and foil. While sometimes lost in the chaos, supporting turns from Ronan as Zero’s love, Jeff Goldblum as an ethical lawyer, Willem Dafoe as a psychotic assassin and Adrien Brody as an angry, snarling heir to the Madame’s fortune stand out. Returning from “Moonrise Kingdom,” Edward Norton is solid as Zubrowka’s police chief, and the duo of Law and Abraham in the 1960s brings the nostalgia factor home. Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and Owen Wilson make their own cameos (as members of a secret society of concierges, another new Anderson quirk), but it’s the duo of Fiennes and Revolori who truly guide the film.

Besides the stellar ensemble, Anderson’s technical team delivers outstanding work as well, with Adam Stockhausen’s period production design, Robert Yeoman’s deft cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s bouncy, booming score standing out. Anderson’s screenplay is one of his best yet, complex and full of humor, sadness, action and those trademark quirks Anderson fans know and love.

While “The Grand Budapest Hotel” made a great first impression, there’s probably plenty of things I missed. But I can’t wait to see it again. Full of nostalgia, hilarity and a cast that delivers across the board, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the first great film of 2014 and one that should not be missed by both Anderson fans and newcomers alike.

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