Film Review: Grand Piano

Hitting all the right notes, this low-radar thriller is pitch-perfect.

Grand PianoF

A ridiculously fun premise lures the viewer into this exciting musical thriller.  Smartly shot and an auditory tour de force, it presents a surprisingly amusing ride through perfectionism and rediscovering purpose.  Aptly born of a man with history as a Composer, director Eugenio Mira orchestrates some stunning visuals, great performances, and a musical score to make any classical fan happy.

Grand Piano centers around a special example of the title item and the young man destined to play it. Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is a piano prodigy on the edge; returning to the stage after a performance anxiety-induced mental breakdown, he prepares to make his comeback at a memorial concert for his mentor’s passing.   Selznick is reunited with the one-of-a-kind Bosendorfer piano he learned on and more importantly, with the “unplayable” piece that recently put him out of commission.  However, all his fears about retaking his place behind the ivories skyrocket to new heights when he finds a note in his music saying he must perform perfectly or die.

Built on a great script by recent Sundance victor Damien Chazelle, Grand balances good story and engaging technical execution.  Elijah Wood turns in a fantastic performance as the terrified pianist. With some help from the camera work, he produces a believable enactment of the concerto.  Further, fellow castmates Kerry Bishé, Tamsin Egerton, Allen Leech, and Alex Winters provide excellent performances that give the world flavor.  In particular, John Cusack’s dedicated villain and Don McManus as the friendly, sage-like conductor are both superbly acted, creating respectively a perfect foil and prod for the protagonist’s journey.

Also on display is the beautiful cinematography and lighting.  Art Deco stylisms permeate the film, lending a regal quality to the already beautiful concert hall, while heightening the narrative tension with visual language.  In particular, the use of strong, contrasting lines of color draw the eye to the subject in classy fashion.  Also, DP Unax Mendía finds new ways of showcasing the title item in a flurry of inventive shot choices.

But without one element specifically, the film would have surely flopped.  The score is magical and integrates seamlessly into the narrative, sliding easily between the on-screen performance and the non-diegetic space.  Melodic and technically complicated, the orchestration compliments the film’s tone and vice versa.  Capping it off, “La Cinquette” proves to be just as complicated as promised, lending a perfect climax to the narrative arc.

Grand Piano is wonderfully shot, simply written, and tight for its narrative purpose.  It marks a great first step onto the world stage for a crew of young, talented filmmakers from around the globe – all of whom have promising futures.  As a thriller, it provides a roller coaster of pleasurable tension sure to please audiences of any age.  A fun watch, this musical gem exhibits a solid appreciation for music, translating that respect beautifully into the cinematic arts.

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