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New Review: Grand Piano (2014)

Updated on June 10, 2014

Director: Eugenio Mira
Cast: Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishé, Tamsin Egerton, Allen Leech, Alex Winter, and the voice of Dee Wallace

It's really quite surprising how engaging Grand Piano is, given that it has one of the goofiest thriller plots of recent memory. It would be quite easy to pick at the myriad of holes in the story, but the movie is such a well acted and exquisitely crafted treat that it keeps you absorbed from start to finish, no matter how ridiculous things get. Director Eugenio Mira brings such a gorgeous visual polish to the proceedings, that the movie is worth seeing just for its look alone. There are shots in this movie that would make Hitchcock proud.

The movie opens with concert pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) arriving at a Chicago airport. He looks frightened while the plane is in the air, and when a friendly passenger assures him that the plane is fixing to land, Tom groans and says, "I'm screwed." You see, Tom hasn't performed in five years due to his extreme stage fright. His last performance was a botch, and his actress wife Emma (Kerry Bishé) actually arranged for him to play in Chicago in hopes of restoring his good name (someone leaves him a note calling him "Failznick").

Once the concert begins and Tom takes his place at the piano (which leads to one of the film's very best shots), Tom opens his sheet music and sees a note written in red that if he plays a wrong note, he'll die. As it turns out, there is a sniper (John Cusack) on the premises, and he makes his presence known to Tom via a floating red laser dot (no doubt attached to a sniper rifle) and an ear piece he leaves Tom in his dressing room. The sniper's motivation will remain unsaid in this review, but once we learn what it is, we can't help but think of the dozens of ways he could have achieved his goals rather than threatening a nervous pianist during a sold out concert.

Someone seems to take music just a little too seriously!
Someone seems to take music just a little too seriously!

Never mind about the plot. As silly as it is, it's fast paced and it gets the job done, and because the movie clocks in at under 80 minutes, there's not enough time for all the holes to sink. They won't bother you until after the movie is over. While it was playing, I was enthralled by the way Mira, cinematographer Unax Mendía, and editor Jose Luis Romeu worked with the material. Just watch the editing during the scene where Tom talks to his wife on the phone as he arrives at the airport, or the dexterous camera work when Tom manages to send a text message to a friend in the audience warning him of the danger he's in (this scene concludes with a split screen technique that's absolutely brilliant). Perhaps the film's most magnificent and painterly shot comes when Tom prepares to play an unplayable piece called "La Cinquette." That one shot gives me chills just thinking about it.

With his frightened eyes and nervous demeanor, Elijah Wood is perfectly cast as Tom. We can certainly feel his anxiety in the earlier scenes before the concert, and when he sweats and plays his heart out on the piano, we're left feeling as nervous as he is. John Cusack doesn't appear in the movie until the very end. For the majority of the movie, we simply hear his dark and sinister voice on the ear piece, and even then, Cusack makes an impression. The movie concludes with a violent showdown between the two men, which many movie goers found disappointing because of how formulaic it felt. It is formulaic, but both actors are so good, and the choreography of the scene is so intense, that it still works.

Grand Piano is the sort of movie where, when four or five people tell Tom before the concert to "break a leg" in the beginning of the movie, you can't help but wonder if the filmmakers are using that simple phrase of encouragement as some form of foreshadowing. It has a wicked and merciless tone, and it's to the movie's credit that it's able to ratchet up the tension without resorting to unnecessary gore (just look at the scene where a villain is fixing to cut a woman's throat with a shard of glass; it's grueling without showing a drop of blood). While there's no denying that Grand Piano is an absurd movie, as it plays out, it seldom strikes a wrong note. It's worth a look.

Rated R for profanity and some violence

Final Grade: *** (out of ****)

What were your thoughts on this movie? :)

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