“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

From the zany mind of Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the follow up to 2012’s hit Moonrise Kingdom and is a return to form for the critically-acclaimed writer/director. Known for his dark comedy humor and quirky backdrops, Anderson has infused all of those elements into his latest piece, and The Grand Budapest Hotel should readily appeal to veteran and new fans alike.

Like most of his films, The Grand Budapest Hotel has a relatively simple story premise compounded by a cast of odd ball characters and uniquely original settings. Not surprisingly, the story takes place at the prestigious Grand Budapest Hotel, located atop a mountain in Budapest, Hungary. The story begins in the “present” day, when a “Young Writer”, played by Jude Law, visits the hotel where he is a frequent guest. After a chance encounter with the hotel’s owner “Mr. Moustafa”, played by F. Murray Abraham, the owner begins recounting his earlier years at the hotel, when he was just a mere lobby boy. The film’s narrative then jumps back and forth through time as Mr. Moustafa reflects on the history of the hotel and specifically an incident that changed his entire life.

Law and Abraham are newcomers to the Anderson cinematic family, and, fittingly, they both lend their voices to the film’s narration as they anchor the story between its constant time cuts, while also introducing the story’s central conflict–namely, the struggles of one of the hotel’s most renown managers and his ever-faithful lobby boy. British A-lister Ralph Fiennes plays “M. Gustave”, the famed manager of the Grand Budapest Hotel. This is also Fiennes’ first Anderson film, and he’s a welcome addition. Although Fiennes is no stranger to the big screen (you’ve seen him in movies such as Skyfall and the Harry Potter franchise to name a few), it’s refreshing to see him man the reigns of an Anderson film since those films definitely require a certain level of charm, gravitas, and quirkiness–traits that you don’t often get to see in Fiennes’ work. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fiennes’ Gustave is all that and more: he’s a respected gentleman and driving force behind the hotel, as well as a consummate ladies’ man, having constant sexual trysts with the hotel’s flock of female patrons. Other notable Anderson first timers include Saoirse Ronan and Tom Wilkinson. Ronan plays “Agatha”, love interest to Zero. Ronan, perhaps known for best for her Academy Award-nominated performance in Atonement, takes a lighter turn here to show yet another side of her abilities–this range is particularly impressive considering she’s only 20 years old! Wilkinson then plays the role of “Author”, the older version of Law’s “Young Author”. Wilkinson is a revered acting powerhouse, so his brief role in this film will hopefully be the first of many more Anderson film appearances.

Gustave’s character truly shines when he takes the hotel’s new lobby boy under his wing. Aptly named “Zero”, this new lobby boy is played by newcomer Tony Revolori and brings with him a reserved sense of maturity and cuteness not often seen in 17-year-old actors. It’s also great seeing more young leading actors of color so hopefully Revolori has a long and prosperous career ahead of him. Getting back to the story, Zero and Gustave become the quintessential dynamic duo–Zero is the Robin to Gustave’s Batman. The two actors have great chemistry on screen and you can definitely see their relationship evolve over the course of the story. What starts as a mentor/pupil relationship eventually becomes a mutual friendship between two peers.

Gustave and Zero’s relationship is then tested when Gustave is accused of murdering a wealthy, elderly heiress named “Madame D”. Actress Tilda Swinton plays the heiress and creates a character so fun and different it would make the likes of Daniel Day Lewis jealous. Swinton’s Madame D is a wrinkly paranoid mess, and it’s just a delight watching her on screen. This marks Swinton’s second Anderson film, having played a delightfully maniacal social services officer in 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom. Although Madame D and Gustave had a loving relationship, the heiress’ family views it as anything but, and the murder accusations are all spearheaded by the family’s eldest son, “Dmitri”, played by Adrien Brody. Brody is very much the villain here, and you can just tell he’s having fun at it. Just in case you’re keeping score: Brody was previously in Anderson’s films The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Darjeeling Limited. Dmitri’s greed and lust for violence is then perpetrated through his numero uno henchman, ‘Jopling’ played by Willem Dafoe. Whether he likes it or not, Dafoe plays the villain well, and Jopling is no exception here. His character also readily makes use of the films R rating – and will probably surprise the average moviegoer with the amount of graphic violence he resorts to. Dafoe was also in Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox as well as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Rounding out the supporting players, Anderson alums Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray all have notable parts here. Goldblum plays “Deputy Kovacs”, an honest lawyer who believes in Gustave’s innocence and meets an untimely end by the hands of Dmitri. Norton then plays “Henckels”, a local law enforcement officer whose role here is eerily (and amusingly) similar to his role in Anderson’s last film Moonrise Kingdom. Schwartzman, who hails from Anderson pics Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited, and Moonrise Kingdom, has a smaller role this time, playing “M. Jean”, one of the hotel attendants that works in the present-day Grand Budapest. Finally, Keitel plays “Ludwig”, a seasoned inmate who befriends Gustave when he is in prison; while Wilson and Murray play “M. Chuck” and “M. Ivan”, fellow hotel managers that band together to help Gustave in his time of need.

Casting for Wes Anderson films is always a fun affair because he is notorious for reusing actors he’s worked with on prior projects. Although it’s not uncommon for directors to work with the same actors on multiple projects (Leonardo DiCaprio stars in many of Martin Scorsese’s films, for example), Anderson definitely goes above and beyond in that he often likes to bring back as many actors as he can in each new film. On top of that, many of these returning actors often take smaller supporting and cameo-esque roles in these films, which only adds to Anderson’s trademark quirkiness and charm. In fact, die-hard Anderson fans eagerly watch each new film just so they can play “Where’s Waldo?” with the film’s cast, trying to spot each and every alum that appears. Filmmakers like Wes Anderson always add an extra sense of fun to their work by not only creating a well-told narrative, but by also having fun with the filmmaking process, including the casting. When a film’s cast is as much as fun as the actual story and narrative, you know you’re in for an extra special treat, and you will absolutely find that in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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Kyle