Movie Review
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Budapest Hotel poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published March 8, 2014
US Release: March 7, 2014

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes , Edward Norton , Owen Wilson , Bill Murray

R for language, some sexual content and violence
Running Time: 99 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $58,943,000
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Fantastic set design and clever camera work canít compensate for a boring story and thatís what this is.
I think I can safely say at this point that Wes Anderson pretty much makes the same film every outing. I liked his first three features: Bottle Rocket (B-), Rushmore (B) and The Royal Tenenbaums (B-/B), but he lost me after The Life Aquatic (C/C+) bored me to death. His pictures arenít your typical mainstream fare which is why his films always debut in the top theater markets first and he has a very loyal following with artistic sensibilities who donít often see films because of their brainless made-by-committee nature. One of the reasons I think his first three films worked on me and continue to still be extremely watchable is the working hand of Owen Wilson in the writing, who stopped writing after Tenenbaums. Wilson had a unique screwball comic sensibility that worked for me and once he stopped collaborating with Anderson in the writing, I felt that Andersonís craft dropped considerably. I admire Andersonís visions after Tenenbaums far more than the films itself and I found myself in that position with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which starts off very impressively and then loses steam fast. In the opening passages of Budapest, I thought I was going to like this film more than several of his past films, but then he sunk right into what I hate about his recent offerings and stuck with that approach. Andersonís strength is his gift with cinematography and tones but his big weakness is in the storytelling. Budapest Hotel starts out with a great tone and fantastic production value and I was getting prepared to be engrossed by what transpired, but then the story had to kick into gear and thatís what lost me here. Fantastic set design and clever camera work canít compensate for a boring story and thatís what this is.

The entire story is about a legendary hotel concierge who gets wrongfully accused of murder, gets sentenced to prison, and then spends the rest of the running time trying to escape from his prison. Every intelligent actor wants to work with Wes Anderson because of how artistic he is with the camera and how the sets look and he clearly has a great reputation with actors because this has an ensemble cast of noble players, but the problem is, theyíre not given much to work with and a lot of it here feels like desperation to be seen in classy fashion regardless of how paper-thin the script happens to be. I wouldnít be surprised if many of these actors agreed to be in the picture without even reading it. Anderson is said to be one of the nicest filmmakers in the business and so turning him down would probably be mean, and these kinds of actors want to work for talented filmmakers who are as kind and laid-back as Anderson is, which is why they jump to do even bit-parts in offbeat anti-studio projects.

I thought Budapest Hotel was off to a very good start that could potentially reach a B rated film and leave me becoming a fan of Anderson once again, but in typical Anderson fashion (at least in more recent years) I didnít care about the characters once the story set in. The murder mishap happens very quickly before any character development (and thereís practically none throughout this story) and weíre expected to go along with it because the suspect is played by the highly respected Ralph Fiennes. Thereís no reason to care about the old lady who is suddenly found murdered in the hotel, and the entire rest of the feature rests on Fiennesí star-power level amongst the art-house crowd. Youíd think that Fiennes being in an Anderson picture would make this a big deal but his role isnít very interesting. Various name-actors make little appearances in the beginning and throughout, playing insignificantly-written parts and all I saw with all the various appearances were good actors just reading dialogue. Instead of seeing good actors playing good parts and being believable as unique personalities, all I could see was actors reading lines without transforming into someone and being honored to just be in it. One of the problems is Anderson is so beloved at this point that nobody he approaches is going to complain.

He sure knows where to put the camera and how to love the actors with the camera but thatís not enough. Actors want to look good in front of the camera and Anderson knows how to complete their wish and make them want to show their friends and family just how impressive they can look onscreen. But outside of the visual form, thereís a lot else to work in and thatís one of Andersonís general flaws. Anderson is a film school rebel and has quite a few film school scholars who follow him religiously and want him paving the way, and youíd think that by being a film school rebel heíd show you how itís done. In film school youíre taught to apply everything about filmmaking with any project, from visual art to storytelling art, and that means crafting compelling visual storytelling with the written word. Anderson has the visual part down to a science and is brilliant at it but his big weakness is in compelling stories. We need characters to care for, compelling issues, and some sort of character development on the way. Budapest is written strictly in a way that defies development just to give good actors something to say. I was bored by most of it once the beginning passages past by and thatís because the script wasnít good. Even the visual flare started to lose me after a certain point because thatís all Anderson was focusing on. At first it was a great novelty to stare at, and then I reached a point where I asked: ďIs that all you have?Ē

It was quite saddening because the beginning ten minutes or so were B-/B material and closer to a B, and then it slid down to a C+ once the murder happened and then sunk down to a C very quickly after. First I thought the running time would whiz by because I was quite impressed by everything and thought it might be one of the few films in recent years where I would actually want more screen time, and then it turned into an experience where I was very aware of the running time. Iíve been with various Wes Anderson audiences and the enthusiasm at this screening seemed to be a bit less than certain ones, but the film should still be relatively successful because of the names it has attached. Even though Anderson has a less than enthused reputation amongst more mainstream demographics, it should gross at least a decent sum of domestic money because of the variety of famous faces. Thereís nothing for big fans of them to eagerly talk about it with others, but this feature has been pretty brilliantly put together in a way where both younger and older demographics have a reason to watch it because of who is in it. Normally those two demographics donít collide but the casting here is diverse. The biggest fans of this film are going to be in the top artistic markets as per usual for Anderson, and once it expands itís likely going to be hit and miss with mainstream audiences because entertainment sensibilities are different. Normally this is the kind of film that I would like over typical mainstream fare, but as I was watching most of it, I found it rather depressing that despite all the artistic qualities, it was just as average.
Lee's Grade: C
Ranked #36 of 111 between It Felt Like Love (#35) and Big Eyes (#37) for 2014 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 3025 graded movies
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'Budapest Hotel' Articles
  • Craig's review B+
    March 26, 2014    It has thrills, itís absurdly funny, and it moves at a break neck speed that keeps us on our toes the entire time. -- Craig Younkin