How can a film centered around just a man and his piano be as spectacular as say, another huge-scale superhero team-up extravaganza? Oddly enough, Spanish newcomer Eugenio Mira has the answer. Grand Piano finds tortured genius Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) struggling through the most difficult concert of his career, only to find things take a turn for the worse when an unseen gunman demands he plays perfectly, or be met with a bullet to the head live on stage. Glued to his podium and hurtling towards a notoriously impossible piece of music, Selznick finds himself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse. Not only his reputation is on the line, but now his life too.
Very blatantly Hitchcockian in its approach and with hints of De Palma in its execution, Piano wastes no time in inundating itself with a multitude of action sequences. Mira is all about the build-up, and with a set-up as lean and intriguing as this one, he finds a lot of joy in gradually ramping up the tension. The slow reveal isn’t always the easiest of approaches to champion but here, Mira just about lands it, thanks in part to an equally steady stream of suspense running parallel at every stage. Quite simply, every fragment of plot revealed is more gripping and revelatory than the last and, although the actual story often finds itself hovering dangerously close to the trashy and absurd, Grand Piano’s underlying structure is to be greatly applauded.
Most of the major issues the film then faces are all tied quite closely to the general content of the plot itself. Whereas Mira’s clever framing and the actors’ consistently po-faced antics suggest a more serious tone to Piano, the events themselves appear a little preposterous in comparison. Selznick’s rampant behaviour on stage never seems to garner the attention of the crowd, despite him being the only thing they have to look at, whilst a late development relating to the mysterious assailant’s true motivation appears to twist the whole film’s footing in a completely different direction altogether.
Linked in to Grand Piano’s seemingly bizarre happenings are sadly, also some of its characters. John Cusack’s supposedly faceless villain is anything but, the actor’s high-billing and noticeable voice giving away his identity in seconds and making a great deal of his mysteriously aloof characterisation exceedingly pointless. Ultimately, this also wastes the entirety of Cusack’s potential as a villain, voiding him of personality and any potential humour and relegating him to nothing but a cardboard stand-in. Luckily Elijah Wood’s clearly troubled protagonist provides the film with a more well-rounded figure, gifting Piano with an emotional core and thus, a great deal more tension. Although Wood’s lead does suffer from the actor’s innate inability to appear as anything other than gormless throughout its action set-pieces, he’s a well-established character with heart and soul and to some extent, that’s commendable.
However, in spite of all of the noted pratfalls Grand Piano quite often finds itself in, it must definitely be said that the film as a whole is ludicrously entertaining. The flawed logic and trashy characterisation ultimately don’t really matter; Mira has crafted an old-school thriller packed with enough well-shot action and cleverly structured suspense to entertain a wide audience. It’s certainly no masterpiece and its flaws are plain to see throughout, but with a film as small and oddly-approached as this providing just as much fun as a huge-scale Hollywood blockbuster, Grand Piano is easily worth your time.
Grand Piano (2014), directed by Eugenio Mira is distributed by Icon Film Distribution, Certificate 15. Watch the trailer below.