Written by Guest Contributor: Jefferey Pinkos If you know about Grand Piano you know some of the following things. (1) It’s influenced by either Alfred Hitchcock, Brian DePalma, or both. (2) The plot is something out of a James Bond villain’s bottom barrel schemes. (3) It’s like Speed, but with a piano; or it’s like Phone Booth, but with a piano; or it’s like a number of movies where the main dude has another main dude pointing a gun at him and making him do stuff, but with a piano.
If you don’t know about Grand Piano it boils down to this. Tom Selznick, played by Elijah Wood, is the world’s greatest piano-man, and tonight’s his first live appearance after a nervous breakdown five years earlier. On stage early into the performance Selznick finds a note written into his sheet music, in dramatic red ink: “Play one wrong note and you die.” A sniper, played by John Cusack, located somewhere in the concert hall’s rafters has pinpointed Mr. Selznick and his piano-manning ability for his nefarious purposes. Flub a note, dead. Alert anyone, dead. Defy Mr. Cusack in any way, dead. It’s, more or less, that stretched over the length of movie.
That invites some questions. Who is Mr. Cusack, and what are his intentions with Mr. Wood? What assassin is that interested in a live orchestration? Can a premise this outlandish, this Bond villain level craziness, find a treatment that retains the tension for over an hour without losing its muster?
Fortunately, Piano’s strength comes from its director Eugenio Mira and the script from its writer Damien Chazelle. The film spends its time inside the concert hall, and thanks to Mira’s eye for imagery, it’s never dull. The colors are vibrant (the glaring red screams danger), and the shots are interesting and point toward some of DePalma’s (whose work this film is reminiscent of) work. You can see Phantom of the Paradise in Piano’s DNA. Chazelle’s script has no slack to speak of. Here he turned a laughable premise and wrung it dry, turning it into, ripping off another critic here, a pulp symphony.
Despite Mira and Chazelle’s best efforts, the premise catches up with them and forces them to make some concession to the plot. Why this? Because this. Cusack’s assassin’s concern with Wood’s performance has a motivation and it’s touched on, but it’s never ever resolved. Say the piano defused a bomb (not it; just an example), his motivation is tangible for the audience to do what he’s doing has some grounding. The last shot of the movie issues no resolution. It’s no miracle piano, except as MacGuffiny as it is, never addressing it renders the tension from the previous hour and change inconsequential.
Its impressive plot and I look forward to more work by Mr. Mira and Mr. Chazelle. Grand Piano is strong and overcomes the plots mostly.
Director: Eugenio Mira Writer: Damien Chazelle Distributors: Magnet Releasing Run Time: 90 min. Release Date: 3/7/14