Movie Review - Grand Piano

Movie Review - Grand Piano

Coming to theaters next week, Eugenio Mira's taut psychological-thriller Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood, is equal parts Alfred Hitchcock and Brain De Palma. And the balance between the two styles makes for a film that is near-perfect on every level. Writer Damien Chazelle manages to create an interesting and innovative take on the classic 'cat-and-mouse' movie, that is mesmerizing from the opening credits to the final frame. With dazzling performances from the entire cast breathing life into the rich characters, the result is truly one of the most well-constructed thrillers released in the last decade. And everyone that worked on this film deserves to share in the credit, because like pieces of a puzzle, each element was integral to the success of the picture as a whole. 

Elijah Wood, whose recent foray into indie-horror has been not only refreshing, but extremely productive (he was Executive Producer of recent indie Toad Road in addition to starring in Alexandre Aja's 2012 remake of Tom Savini's 1980 classic, Maniac). And here he shows his versatility as famed concert pianist, Tom Selznick, whose rise to fame was cut short when crippling stage fright causes him to have a breakdown during a performance. After the death of his mentor, he returns to the stage, where he will play the same piano his mentor used during his career. Not long after the concert begins, Tom finds a note written on his sheet music warning him that if he plays one wrong note, he will be killed. At first he thinks it's some sick joke, but when the unknown assailant proves that the situation is very real, a chess match begins between the two, keeping us rapt until the conclusion. 

Wood engineers an inspired performance, playing Selznick with a subtlety that grounds the entire movie. He is a master of restraint, only going over-the-top when the story dictates. But a film like this requires an equally engaging villain, and John Cusack is absolutely captivating. Even the usually pleasing timbre of his voice sounds menacing when he speaks here, and his apparent omniscient presence in the concert hall asserts an inescapable control over the situation that is utterly  terrifying. But credit must also be given to the talented supporting cast, including the lovely Kerry Bishe (Argo) as Tom's wife, and a chilling performance by Alex Winter (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Lost Boys) as the Assistant to the man pulling the strings. 

A large amount of the films realistic tone can be credited to editor Jose Luis Romeu, who manages to seamlessly intercut the footage of Mr. Wood (who must have studied piano intensively for the role, though I can find no mention of whether or not he had any training before this) with the shots of his hand double. It becomes impossible to distinguish the two apart, making you question whether a double was used at all. It was quintessential in order to bring the character of Tom Selznick to life.

I was also blown-away by the music in the film created by Victor Reyes. It manages to match the tone of the film perfectly, adding to the suspense without taking away from the music being played onstage. The rich tapestry of different layers of sound surround us - entrapping us in the audience, armed with the knowledge to help, but unable to do anything about it. It puts our perspective in both the crowd and onstage at all times. The music, like the direction, is a masterpiece of counterbalance.

The director, Eugenio Mira, serves as a bit of a maestro himself, conducting each of the different elements of the film into one symphony whose movements ebb and flow with precision, calculatedly guiding the pace toward the fever pitch of the final act. This film is a must see for everyone. Tell all of your friends, as this will appeal to more than just horror fans. Highly recommended, and damn near perfect. 

Grade A. 

- Leo Francis