Directed by: Eugenio Mira
Premise: A master piano player (Elijah Wood) performs a complicated piece in a crowded concert hall but in the midst of the show he discovers that a sniper is going to kill him if he plays one wrong note.
What Works: Grand Piano is a fun and energetic thriller. The picture begins by introducing a world renowned pianist, played by Elijah Wood, who had choked in an earlier performance and is set to make his comeback. The early scenes of Wood’s character arriving at the airport and traveling to the concert hall are a very good example of economic storytelling. In a very brief set up, the filmmakers are able to communicate everything that the audience needs to know about Wood’s character and they lay out the exposition with the protagonist on the move. It’s revealed that the character’s future as a concert pianist rides on the success or failure of the night’s performance. This invests the audience in the drama and makes us care about the outcome of the concert even before the sniper gets involved in the story. The viewer’s emotional connection with the material is largely due to the performance of Elijah Wood who is very well cast in the main role. Motion pictures sometimes depict artisans and musicians as flaky or aloof but Wood’s character is very accessible and the pressure on his character comes across credibly. Grand Piano also benefits from a strong supporting cast. John Cusack plays the sniper and although he is only manifested vocally for much of the picture, Cusack’s distinct delivery makes his presence felt throughout the film. Kerry Bishé is cast as the wife of Wood’s character and even though the film does not give her much to do the actress is able to distinguish herself. Tamsin Egerton and Allen Leech play the comic relief as a pair of social climbers more interested in what the art scene can do for them than the art itself and Egerton and Leech inject their parts with a lot of personality. But as good as the performances are, the success of Grand Piano is really a result of its makers’ cinematic choices. The premise of the movie is inherently uncinematic, in that it mostly consists of a musician sitting at a piano, but the filmmakers take up the potential of the gimmick and execute it very well. Grand Piano is extremely well shot. The filmmakers choose unusual angles and find ways to dramatize the stress of the performance and the picture is edited with tremendous energy.
What Doesn’t: A lot of Grand Piano is plainly absurd if the viewer stops to think about it. The premise of the story is over elaborate and makes very little sense, especially when the motive of the sniper is revealed. Those who are musicians or who attend classical concerts will notice some obvious implausibilities such as the layout of the stage, the pianist’s attempt to use his cellphone mid-concert, and an impromptu vocal performance that sounds warmed up and rehearsed. These choices, especially the organization of the stage, are done more for style than for realism and in the end they work for the film. Grand Piano does go awry in the ending. Movies built on a premise like the one in this film usually cannot sustain it and the climax of Grand Piano discards the gimmick that makes the bulk of the picture work. The ending transforms the film from a psychological thriller and into a chase and the finale isn’t as tight as the rest of the movie although it is satisfying enough. The length of Grand Piano is also worth mentioning. The film’s official running time is ninety minutes, but the end credits begin to roll after less than eighty minutes, and the picture has been padded with extra acknowledgements to fill out the running time. However, the sparse length isn’t such a bad thing, since the movie has nothing in it that comes across as filler.
Bottom Line: Grand Piano is a terrific thriller. The movie may play fast and loose with reality but it commits to the premise and the story moves along so fast and is so involving that its improbabilities are barely noticeable. This is an exciting and slickly made picture and director Eugenio Mira proves himself to be a filmmaker to watch.
Episode: #482 (March 16, 2014)