Elijah Wood is very good at playing weak characters that eventually gain confidence and achieve whatever is the needed outcome. I thought he did an outstanding job in the horror film remake, Maniac, embracing the psychosis of a killer with ease, which seems very out of character for him. When I heard about the thriller, Grand Piano, I leaped at the chance to see him in another intriguing role- this time as a pessimistic and stage-frightened pianist. Even though this seems to go back to a role that he is comfortable with, I like seeing him in these nouveau thrillers as of late.
Tom Selznick (Wood) has been retired from the professional piano game for five years, after a botched last performance that upset his career. He is the protégé of his mentor, Patrick and is married to a beautiful and successful actress who always supports him. He has a lot weighing on him and is petrified of choking again during his performance. Tom is playing the same piece on the same piano that he messed up on 5 years ago and he just knows he will mess up again on such a dense and complex piece. After a phone interview prior to his performance, Tom gets off the phone saying, “Shoot me”, to no one in particular; a sneak-peak in foreshadowing for what is to come.
Set almost exclusively in one setting, it didn’t bore. The concert music starts out demure and solemn. It is very beautiful that escalates with looming terror. As Tom turns the pages of his score, the threats begin. A sniper shooter has his eyes, and gun, pointed towards not only Tom, but also his wife. He only has to get through the unplayable piece without missing a note. Much easier said than done. Now he really knows the meaning of stage fright as he must complete the performance of his life, or for his life, I should say. The premise of this film excited me right away. It should have been an orchestrated and intelligent twist for the thriller genre. This film has a lot of things going for it but regrettably, it falls short.
Turns out the threats are more than just threats. It is to pull off a heist for the prized piano, which holds a valuable secret. This twist did not thrill me, nor was I moved. John Cusack plays the villain and has zero screen time. I really wonder why he chose such a role, when it could have been played by anyone. If it weren’t for the actors involved, I would have considered this a complete fail. But the music is haunting and Elijah holds the movie together with his taut performance.
The ending, or crescendo if you will, was one of the most anti-climactic scenes I have seen. This film in no way evokes fear or excitement, only disappointment. It’s as if they ran out of time and ideas toward the end of the film and left it that way to seem mysterious. The ending is frustrating and it is obvious it is incomplete. I understand budgets have to be cut, but not at the sake of creativity. Though this film can be enjoyable to watch, don’t expect much out of it.
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