Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hitting the right key to survive ~ Grand Piano Film Review

by: Uel Ceballos
The Grand Piano with its empowering title, main cast and music involving plot, brings out the great level of expectation from its audience. This 2013 Spanish thriller film has captured my attention for two reasons. First, is because of Elijah Wood whom I last saw in Eternal Sunshine in the Spotless Mind. The last movie I remember where he was the main cast was LOTR and I really miss seeing him again in the centre of scenarios (haven’t checked yet his other film that followed after LOTR which mostly were in thriller genres). Second, is because the film speaks about music, particularly piano music and I’m looking forward to great exhibition of music craft here like what I witnessed from Hilary and Jackie and La Vie En Rose.

The film had established a good start, with the mystery gradually foreshadowing along. Characters are building up eventually along the film, with the significant details carefully left out to spice the twist on the latter part. As a coming back concert pianist who has been on the hiatus of his career for five years, Tom Selznick played by Elijah Wood represents a man who is still haunted by his tormenting past. Again, Elijah Wood’s wide eloquent eyes served him to his advantage of better portraying the required role, and this time as woeful musician Tom Selznick, who keeps denying about being haunted, but in fact sweating extremely through his tux even before he gets on the stage to hit a key. The reason
 for that emotionally-suffering behaviour exhibited by Tom is brought out in the limelight, one piece at a time through the character of Clem played by John Cussack.

The use of powerful music to backdrop a sophisticated thriller is close to a perfect suspense film execution. As Tom goes to the piano and gets ready his music sheet, there amidst the black and white notes handwritten the phrase, “play one wrong note and you die”. From there the spine tingling adventure begins as Tom performs his piece, quiet confused of what’s going on and why somebody is suddenly posing a threat against him and his wife.

Elijah Wood is undeniably a good actor, doing Tom Selznick role as if he was really born for it. He had done well to appear like he could really play the piano professionally. One of the hardest challenges for an actor is to do the role of a virtuoso and act exactly like one, the hardest pressure is laid in imitating that person as he delivers his trade, especially when that trade falls under the category of arts and performing. But Elijah had excelled himself here as the once celebrated musician who is now doing a concert comeback with the ghost of the past still clinging on his back.

However, it’s rare for a film to go without a single flaw (that’s quite normal), and this film got some palpable failings with regard to its story line which I believe is all films’ valuable backbone. Tom’s part is clear and well established, while Clem’s was not. The intention for threatening Tom Selznick’s life is vaguely established, and though John Cusack’s performance is sure-fire effective (with 90% of his character’s part on the film is presented only by his voice over), his character was weakly developed. That though Clem’s has mentioned something about his personal attachment/relations to the music, particularly to the unplayable “La Cinquette” piece which he forced Tom to play, in the end Clem appeared nothing but a psychopath music lover who trespassed a concert and mentally torture the concert artist before he finally decide to shoot him. The acts of Clem in threatening Tom while the latter is performing onstage could be more intriguing and effective if the motivation behind that is made clear and well developed. Nonetheless, the film was strangely appealing, with the grandeur music embedding the thrilling scenarios of Tom playing (instead of running) for his life. So there, for this classy kind of thriller let’s cheer on it with 7 Espresso Shots!