Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Elijah Wood is Tom Selznick, a pianist who gets to rare chance to participate in the musical score to his own hostage situation in Eugenio Mira’s Grand Piano. Mira takes a fairly silly setup–think Speed or Phonebooth on a night at the theatre– and turns in a fun, stylish thriller that would not be out of place in The Twilight Zone.
Selznick is a piano prodigy returning to the stage for a concert honoring his mentor after a crippling public failure sent him into hiding five years before. He’s understandably nervous and it seems in a sea of people expecting him to choke again, his only support is his wife watching from the boxes. Everything is going smoothly in preparation for the concert, much to the chagrin of the anxious Selznick. He wouldn’t mind if, for example, his mentor’s flawless custom piano hadn’t been successfully shipped to the venue that evening. But no, it’s all fine until he flips open his sheet music to find scrawled in red ink “PLAY ONE WRONG NOTE AND YOU DIE” (Here is where I half expected Rod Serling to come in smoking for a recap, alas…) Understandably, Selznick views this as a prank until the sniper gets into radio contact and provides some proof. Wood, with his wide expressive eyes and array of nervous ticks, makes for a compelling hostage drawing us in as he grasps the gravity of the situation and then little by little steeling himself as attempts to regain the upper hand and keep everyone safe.
Meanwhile John Cusack is appropriately villainous as the menacing voice on the other end of the phone. He gruffly hints at the bitterness fueling this particular heist but the film wisely avoids backstory in focusing squarely on Selznick’s predicament. Also lending a hand on the side of the baddies is a shady theatre security guard played by Alex Winter who provides the muscle to the distant sniper. He’s great as a twitchy henchman who’s not quite as invested in the concert as Cusack’s caller is.
Taking place almost entirely in the concert hall, Mira composes some gorgeous shots often in the deeps red of the theatre upholstery to pile on the tension. Occasionally the cinematography, and the film itself really, drifts into campy territory but it seems fitting within the structure of this over-the-top cat and mouse setup. After an opening credits sequence that gives a horror house ride-like tour through the inner workings of the eponymous piano, you really don’t expect anything less.
Grand Piano opens theatrically on March 7th