You don't arrive at the Grand Budapest Hotel without your share of Wes Anderson baggage. Odds are, if you've booked a visit to this film, you've enjoyed your past trips to the Wes Indies (I promise I'll stop this extended metaphor soon), delighting especially in Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and his most recent charmer Moonrise Kingdom. On the other hand, you could be the adventurous sort — a curious diplomat who never really got Anderson's uric-toned deadpan drudgings but can't resist browsing through the brochures of his latest European getaway. First off, neither community should worry about a bias in this review — I'm a Life Aquatic devotee, equally alienating to both sides. Second, neither community should be deterred by Andersonian expectations, be they sky high or subterranean, in planned Budapest excursions. No matter who you are, this movie will charm your dandy pants off and then some.
While GBH hangs tight to the filmmaker's recognizable style, the movie is a departure for Anderson in a number of ways. The first being plot: there is one. A doozy, too. We're accustomed to spending our Wes flicks peering into the stagnant souls of pensive man-children — or children-men (Moonrise) or fox-kits (guess) — whose journeys are confined primarily to the internal. But not long into Grand Budapest, we're on a bona fide adventure with one of the director's most attractive heroes to date: the didactic Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes mastering sympathetic comedy better than anyone could have imagined he might), who invests his heart and soul into the titular hotel, an oasis of nobility in a decaying 1930s Europe. Gustave is plucked from his sadomasochistic nirvana overseeing every cog and sprocket in the mountaintop institution and thrust into a madcap caper — reminiscent of, and not accidentally, the Hollywood comedies of the era — involving murder, framing, art theft, jailbreak, love, sex, envy, secret societies, high speed chases... believe me, I haven't given half of it away. Along the way, we rope in a courageous baker (Saoirse Ronan), a dutiful attorney (Jeff Goldblum), a hotheaded socialite (Adrien Brody) and his psychopathic henchman (Willem Dafoe), and no shortage of Anderson regulars. The director proves just as adept at the large scale as he is at the small, delivering would-be cartoon high jinks with the same tangible life that you'd find in a Billy Wilder romp or one of the better Hope/Crosby Road to movies.
Anchoring the monkey business down to a recognizable planet Earth (without sacrificing an ounce of comedy) is the throughline of Gustave's budding friendship with his lobby boy, Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori, whose performance is an unprecedented and thrilling mixture of Wes Anderson stoicism and tempered humility), the only living being who appreciates the significance of the Grand Budapest as much as Gustave does. In joining these two oddballs on their quest beyond the parameters of FDA-approved doses of zany, we appreciate it, too: the significance of holding fast to something you believe in, understand, trust, and love in a world that makes less and less sense everyday. Anderson's World War II might not be as ostensibly hard-hitting as that to which modern cinema is accustomed, but there's a chilling, somber horror story lurking beneath the surface of Grand Budapest. Behind every side-splitting laugh, cookie cutter backdrop, and otherworldly antic, there is a pulsating dread that makes it all mean something. As vivid as the worlds of Rushmore, Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise might well have been, none have had this much weight and soul.
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So it's astonishing that we're able to zip to and fro' every crevice of this haunting, misty Central Europe at top speeds, grins never waning as our hero Gustave delivers supernaturally articulate diatribes capped with physically startling profanity. So much of it is that delightfully odd, agonizingly devoted character, his unlikely camaraderie with the unflappably earnest young Zero, and his adherence to the magic that inhabits the Grand Budapest Hotel. There are few places like it on Earth, as we learn. There aren't many movies like it here either.
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Promising journalism student Matt Buckner (Wood) gets tossed out of Harvard for taking a drug rap for his highly privileged roommate the son of a governor. He knows he can't fight the charges so he heads to London to visit his sister (Claire Forlani) who's married and has a child. Their absentee father (Henry Goodman) is a foreign correspondent and Matt can't reach him to tell him of his expulsion. Meanwhile he meets Pete (Hunnam) the crass and unsophisticated brother of his new brother-in-law Steve (Marc Warren). Steve sends Matt off with his brother Pete with a bribe to show him one of England's best cultural event--a football match (that's soccer to us Yanks). That trip results in Matt's involvement in the Green Street Hooligans a gang or "firm " as they're called that supports the local team and pounds each other in violent street battles. Matt learns about camaraderie loyalty machismo and street fighting as well as realizing he can pack a wallop when called upon. He's getting a reputation for being tough but things get more complicated as Matt becomes the sole American in the Hooligans as well as the fact he's hiding that he's a journalist. The firms don't take kindly to the tabloid types.
We know Wood as Frodo Baggins the hobbit of the Lord of the Rings movies and Hunnam is known as the pretty boy from the British version of Queer as Folk and Nicholas Nickleby. But in Green Street Hooligans both of them dirty themselves up a bit. Hunnam is the standout showing his true acting chops with his close-shorn hair and spontaneous mean streak. He's smart and multi-dimensional alternately showing his rough side as a gang fighter and then his sensitive side as a schoolteacher and football coach. Wood isn't nearly as believable as a street thug but he's adept at playing the fish-out-of-water roles. Warren is noteworthy as the brother-in-law with a secret and Leo Gregory puts on quite a performance as a police lieutenant suspicious of Pete. The supporting cast looks like they were taken right off the streets of West Ham.
Director and co-writer Lexi Alexander does a nice job showing the British versions of gangs and their bloody street fights. Americans may be shocked by the senseless violence surrounding a sports franchise (or maybe not) but it's realistic. The British press however are vilifying this film because it's too cleaned up and doesn't accurately show the "yob" subculture. But if Hooligans is viewed for its brutal but effective fight scenes as well as a window into machismo then its not disappointing. It gets a bit corny at times and heads in a predictable direction but it remains captivating partially because of the handheld cinematography by Alexander Buono. The film shows how the sense of belonging and desire to bash heads can become addictive among the guys in the pubs who don't have much to lose.