When I was compiling our 2014 most anticipated movies, I read about Grand Piano. It premiered at 2013’s Fantastic Fest, and I saw a lot of horror fans give it its due props. However, the description is a pure thriller, and I chose to leave it off of our list.
I was right about it being a thriller, but it is one beautiful film that I am sad to not have alerted our readers to.
Grand Piano is a film about overcoming ones fear of going forward. All too often, we can be our own harshest critics. Christopher Titus describes that critical voice as his “inner retard”, and I must say that his explanation is one of the best I’ve ever heard. This voice constantly reminds us of our faults, and only seems content when we are wallowing in the fear of the unknown.
Tom Selznick (Elijiah Wood) is a gifted concert pianist until he succumbs to stage fright brought on by the inability to play his (now deceased) teacher’s “unplayable piece”. For the last five years, he has drowned this fear in alcohol and has retired from the stage. He has a beautiful wife Emma (Kerry Bishe) that is a budding screen actress, and decides to do a comeback concert to coincide with her new film advertising blitz.
Tom is a nervous wreck, and notices a copy of the “unplayable piece” in his music while waiting to go on stage. He tosses the sheets and walks on stage to his instrument. During his first song, he notices an odd arrow on his music in red marker. After turning the page, he finds that somebody has written “Play one wrong note and you die!”. As Tom struggles with what is happening, a red dot appears on the words (showing Tom that he does have a gun on him).
After leaving the stage temporarily, Tom finds an earpiece that is left for him from this unknown man. He instructs Tom to play all the notes correct or he will die (including the unplayable piece). If he goes for help, this man will kill Emma.
It’s a great setup, and I enjoyed Grand Piano immensely. It is beautifully shot, Wood and John Cusack do a great job carrying this vehicle, and the music is great. However, the ending fell apart for me.
Director Eugenio Mira has plenty of space in this huge concert hall to get the perfect shot each scene, and he does not miss. From the crowd views of the stage to tight shots of Tom backstage, he does not disappoint. One of my least favorite shots in films is when the camera zooms inside of something, but even that is done well here as we are catapulted from the audience to the orchestra and then (finally) to the bowels of the grand piano. The sound is open, and the echoes are captured and translated well.
Of course, this film lives and breathes by its stars: Elijiah Wood is asked to be both a confident and broken man. You can see the flash of brilliance in him that is so endearing to those around him, but you can also see him creeping away from those same people. John Cusack is the assailant, and does a great job pushing Wood to both succeed and fail. These two have a great repertoire, and carry this film for its majority.
Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the finale. The set up worked, but the reasoning and execution hurts this film towards the end. It feels quite Goonies-ish, but I did like the Pulp Fiction payoff. It just seemed like Clem’s plan was overkill, and there had to be thousands of better options out there.
Grand Piano is not a horror film, but it is well worth a watch. It’s an intense thriller that is beautiful, enthralling, and enjoyable.