This film either succeeds on two levels or fails because of its inherent duplicity. A fast paced crime farce with as many twists and turns as one of the imagined roads in its fictional middle European Alpine setting. It has an intricate plot, is fast paced and has cameo appearances from respected actors, so it ticks the Hollywood entertainment box. On an artistic level it nods to various film genres from brutal Eastern Bloc Film Noir to French New Wave and has beautiful sets, crafted cinematography and is brimming with symbolism throughout. I can’t help thinking that if this had been a French movie with a cast of unknown actors it would have lived up to its rather dubious accolade as a modern masterpiece.
The sets are lavish, emotionally provocative and deliberately false. Director Wes Anderson uses real models and painted backdrops, flagrantly avoiding CGI, to great effect. It has a European feel throughout, not surprising as it was made jointly between England and Germany and filmed on location in the latter. Most of the characters are grotesques with no real substance apart from Feinne’s main character which unravels throughout the film as his comfortable world of a romantic bygone age, starts to crumble alongside the hotel’s demise.
The plot is too complicated to go into but it intrigues and Ralph Feinnes plays a great lead role as the tortured, fussy, buttoned-up concierge of a fine hotel and part time gigalo to wealthy old ladies, which proves to be his undoing and ultimate salvation. His sidekick Zero is also good; his silent observation throughout the movie is poignant and cleverly underplayed. There are moments of pure comedy and I love some of the scenes (the jump cut to the feet in the scuffle on the train is genius), the shoot out scene in the hotel, death at the museum including fingers being chopped off, the escape from prison and an almost cartoon like chase around a country mansion with stolen painting are all superb. The lead up to meeting a character that holds the key to resolving the plot via a secret society and coded messages passed on by monks, ending in his ultimate demise in a confessional box, is funny too. It is quirky, funny, dark at times and beautiful.
Like I said at the beginning, this film is not entirely an art house or action film so it might fail purists in either camp, but it succeeds at both if you watch it with an open mind.