After five years of seclusion following a career-destroying failed recital, young piano virtuoso Tom Selznick is pressured into a performance where he finds himself the hostage of a mysterious assassin’s disembodied voice.
The premise of “Grand Piano,” directed by Eugenio Mira, sounds interesting enough, but becomes unnerving when one realizes that the entire plot unfolds in the course of a four-movement concerto that the protagonist is performing. Despite its spatial limitation, or perhaps because of it, the film pulls off a searing intensity that holds the audience captive for its 90-minute duration.
Selznick, played by the ever-delightful Elijah Wood, balances the grandiose scale of each scene alongside its claustrophobic trappings of his predicament. Selznick is immersed in the beauty of the continuous concerto that constitutes the majority of the film, yet he is also trapped by his fears and insecurities. Wood easily embodies this anxiety-ridden hero in his subdued frustration that lasts all the way to the action-packed climax.
Playing the role of the ubiquitous villain is John Cusack, physically absent for almost the entire film but still truly intimidating, manifesting a monstrous presence in his dialogue. Cusack and Wood react to each other in an engaging and exciting way, playing a tense and deadly game of cat and mouse.
The suspense of the film comes from Mira’s tactful direction. He uses precise cinematography to create a space that is dubious, where nothing is trustworthy and yet at the same time majestic. This precision is evident in the grand scope of both the in-film score and the setting of the concert hall itself.
Mira’s use of colors and lighting is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s in how it dictates tones and suspense, guiding the emotional state and expectations of the audience as it leads them through the chest-crushing anxiety experienced by Selznick and toward the explosive resolution.
“Grand Piano” is a burlesque symphony and a haunting dirge all at once, capturing the sanctity of a night at the concert hall as well as moments of genuine shock and panic — almost a modern take on the classic Hitchcock thriller. The film does suffer from some contrived dialogue here and there, and at times it feels as though the music takes precedent over the story — but then again, it is gorgeous music.
Regardless, Mira is very talented and the energy between Wood and Cusack is endlessly exciting, making “Grand Piano” an entertaining and wholly engaging watch.
Nikolas Reda-Castelao is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.