Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Eugenio Mira
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Tamsin Egerton, Kerry Bishé, Alex Winter, Dee Wallace
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 2/20/14
Opens: March 7, 2014
If you like classical music and you love suspense, you’ll go for “Grand Piano,” a thriller directed by the Spanishn director Eugenio Mira from a script written purely as a spec by Damien Chazelle. If you see a bunch of Spanish names in the credits, that’s because a Catalunya company, Nostromo Pictures, ended up with a winning bid for the film, which was shot in Barcelona, Chicago and Las Palmas.
The taut, suspense-laden film gets a terrific interpretation by Elijah Wood as pianist Tom Selznick, haunted by an event five year previous when, because of stage fright which caused to him to bolt from the stage, is now returning to a Chicago concert Hall for a hoped-for comeback. Wood plays the man, frightened long before he is threatened by an unusual sniper, as though a clone of Atlantic magazine editor Scott Stossel, whose book “Surviving Anxiety” is a confession of a fellow who despite his rise to the top of the magazine publishing profession is almost literally afraid of his shadow.
Tom Selznick has so little time to relax before his big concert that he has to change into his tuxedo in the limousine sent to pick him up at the airport. By the time he sits on the bench in the concert hall, he’s frazzled, but his terrors are only beginning. Turning the score, he finds a note that cannot be played on the piano but which could have put the pianist into a coma. “Play one wrong note and you will be shot,” he reads, while a sniper, speaking into the pianist’s earpiece, threatens to kill Tom’s beautiful, superstar actress wife Emma (Kerry Bishé).
Cinephiles may be reminded of Joel Schumacher’s 2003 movie “Phone Booth” which featured a man who, hearing a ring on the public telephone, picks it up to be told that if he hangs up, he will be shot. As in “Grand Piano,” the formidable red dot of a laser-adapted rifle, points to his body.
A good deal of the excitement of this film comes from the adept performance of Elijah Wood, whose light blue eyes are scary in themselves. And the classical music (an original composed for this film) played by a full orchestra is magnificent—something for music-lovers to behold even if they have no particular appetite for Hitchcock themes. Tom Selznick has a hard enough time knocking out his part of the concerto but in addition he has to listen to the regular taunts of the villain, Clem (John Cusack), whose motivation is allegedly known about three-fourths into the story.
We in the audience can’t be blamed for our curiosity. What in blazes could prompt the evil voice to require a pianist to play without making a single error? That’s where the trouble arises in this script. Though we hear Clem eventually tell the frightened musician the reason for his action, some of us will come up with a big…HUH?
There are some juicy side roles, which includes a rant by a bimbo member of the audience, Ashley (Tamsin Egerton), furious that her alleged friend, Emma, refused to seat her in the actress’ box seats. Alex Winter becomes a commanding presence as a security guard as the film turns from being a psychological thriller to an out-and-out tale of multiple murder. What separates “Grand Piano” from a true Hitchcock masterwork is the fragility of Clem’s motivation, so watch closely and see if you can figure that out.
Rated R. 90 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B