The film is presented in a nesting series of flashbacks. In the present day, we see a young woman coming to pay homage at the grave of The Author (Tom Wilkinson). Then, we see the 1985 filming of an evident television interview, where The Author is answering one of those “where do you get your ideas,” questions. His answer takes the form of flashing back to 1968, at the now crumbling Grand Budapest Hotel, where the younger Author (Jude Law) meets elderly Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who tells his own story to the author.
In Zero’s story, we see young Zero (Tony Revolori) who, as a new “lobby boy” at the Grand Budapest in 1932, as he is taken under the wing of Monsieur Gustave H. (Fiennes), who is the Concierge and effective manager of the great resort. M. Gustave runs the hotel with a flamboyant hand, and also provides personal services to a very select group of female customers, as long as they are “insecure, old, rich, blonde, and needy.”
M. Gustave’s comfortable situation goes topsy turvy when one of those customers, “dowager countess Madame Celine Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis,” a.k.a., “Madame D,” dies suddenly, leaving M. Gustave a priceless painting in a last-minute codicil to her much-amended Will. Her son, the ruthless Dimitri (Adrien Brody), frames Gustave for his mother’s murder. Gustave is taken to jail in a grim castle while Dimitri’s murderous henchman (Willem Dafoe) seeks to recover the painting and forestall any further looking into Madame D’s will.
What follows is an escape from prison, which is a great homage to past movies such as “Escape from Alcatraz,” “Escape from Colditz,” and a bit of “Count of Monte Cristo.” At large, Gustave, aided by the loyal Zero, attempts to avoid capture, get the goods on Dimitri, and avoid falling foul of the swarms of fascistic troops investing the country. (“Zubrovka,” named for a brand of Polish vodka, is supposedly one of those East European countries that came into existence after World War One, and ceased to exist after World War Two--).
It is a really enjoyable and amusing romp, well-paced, lovingly shot, alternatingly charming, exciting, or laugh-out-loud funny. Fiennes add another great character to his list of roles, playing M. Gustave as an amoral yet principled, charming yet ruthless rogue. Newcomer Tony Revolori does a wonderful job standing up to all the experienced star power in this film and makes young Zero a likeable character we want to root for. Saoirse Ronan’s “Agatha” is brave, competent, and cool-headed. The star-studded supporting cast fling themselves into the mix with abandon.
So, a very enjoyable comedy. Some instances, such as those involving the murders in the plot, or the sudden outburst of expletives for shock value, make it not suitable for children.
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