For sheer visual artistry and comedic whimsy, there really isn’t a better director working today than Wes Anderson, whose latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), is another clever and wholly unique entertainment. It’s a story within a story within a story: a writer (Tom Wilkinson) recalls an encounter his younger self (Jude Law) has with a wealthy hotel owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who himself recounts the adventures of his younger self (Tony Revolori) as a young lobby boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel. For all that convoluted set-up, the narrative is really about how Mr. Moustafa became the owner of the grand, mountaintop resort, through his friendship with M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the hotel’s suave, civilized concierge. Gustave’s upper-crust pose, and his numerous romantic entanglements with wealthy, older women, lead to complications when an elderly dowager countess (Tilda Swinton) dies just as the First World War is breaking out. This entangles him in a madcap inheritance drama, pitting him against the countess’ ruthless family.
Anyone familiar with Anderson’s earlier films will immediately recognize the distinctive visual style: The Grand Budapest Hotel has it in spades, each shot a colorful, carefully composed canvas, all spliced together with humor and panache. The cast is basically a Wes Anderson Repertory Company, all the usual suspects: Swinton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson, as well as a newcomer who fits in with the quirky style perfectly: Saoirse Ronan. But it’s Fiennes who owns the film, a comically sophisticated Old World fellow to whom Revolori plays straight man throughout their escapades. It’s his most interesting and fun role in years, and goes a long way to selling the complex tangle of a plot, which involves murder, mayhem, war, romance, prison breaks, and even the odd, ludicrous action setpieces, all against a stylish, rich historical backdrop. It’s another assured and visually engrossing triumph from a director that’s truly one-of-a-kind.