Vic’s Review – “Grand Piano” (2013)


What’s it About?

Moments before his comeback performance, a concert pianist who suffers from stage fright discovers a note written on his music sheet.

“Grand Piano”

Directed by Eugenio Mira

By Vic

7 out of 10

Grand Piano” is the latest effort from Spanish Composer and director, Eugenio Mira, who brought us “The Birthday” and the surreal thriller, “Fade.” This go around, Mira delivers a polished and suspenseful thriller that flows with overt theatricality and purpose. The film stars Elijah Wood (Radio Flyer, Maniac) as a nervous and agitated classical pianist named Tom Selznick. Tom is to play once again after a long hiatus from the spotlight to support his actress wife, named Emma (Kerry Bishe of “Argo”). A few years earlier, Tom suffered a breakdown due to elevated stage fright and caused quite a spectacle, and as a result, Tom withdraws into reclusive-ness.

Tom, who was once a learned pupil of a great deceased composer named Godereaux, is edgy and skittish about the whole affair because of the high profile attention the gala, in Chicago, is getting. Mira supllies a solid set up and peers into the mind and actions of Tom who, while changing into his Tux in a limo, cannot even function or articulate well, during a phone interview. To Wood’s credit, he gives Tom an air of uncertainty and dread but inwardly, Tom cares deeply for music and for his wife.


Mira beautifully keeps the movie flowing with a very refreshing regality that is not very common to see in thrillers these days. The Conducter (Don McManus) of the evening tries stalwartly to ease Tom for the evening even dedicating the concert to Godereaux, himself. In his dresing room, Tom unpacks a cell phone (in a bit of foreshadwing) gift from his wife and it is established that Tom even shuns technology. When the concert eventually starts, and after throwing away sheet notes of a broad number, named “La Cinquette” (which is another plot device that is foreshadowed), Tom makes it on stage to start the concert.

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By this time, Mira has delivered the goods with well placed pacing, artful composition and thought provoking camera work, by Unax Mendia (No Rest for the Wicked) and good performances by his leads. Now, it’s pretty much crunch time for both the movie and for us as viewers. Does Mira deliver a film that is more than just some classical Pianist who tries to not wet his pants during his comeback concert? Yes and unfortunately, no. It is a movie that is truly a bit schizoid.

As Tom bravely plays on, he sees cryptic messages written in bold red ink on his sheet music from someone who appears to be at the concert. Someone with demands. As Tom reads and plays (every so often running off stage) he eventually places an earpiece into his left ear (away from the audience) in order to listen to the demands of a sniper in the crowd, who has a gun trained on his wife, Emma, sitting in the balcony. Once contact is made then we know the motive behind the stranges messages: For Tom to play the best he ever has and to play the piece note perfect. In essence, he has to play the best concert of his life. If he doesn’t then Emma dies.

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Ultimately, we find out there is more to all of this. The journey to the final act, when all is revealed, is typical thriller fare but the film remains ambitious even though preposterous in places. What really makes “Grand Piano” work is the visual and musical flair. The camera angles, the elegant sets, split screens and the high concept B flick pulp helps to swallow that implausibility pill. Mira’s musical dynamic is very impressive as he amps up the scores in places to establish fright, fear, wonder and surprise.

Grand Piano” harkens back to old fashioned suspenseful thrillers of the 40’s and early 50’s with a broad sense of style and great dramactic flourishes. The movie remains very reminiscent, in tone and mood, of older Hitchcock classics by the way of Brian De Palma. And that is not an easy feat and is indeed a credit to the craftsmanship.

But I must admit the movie does suffer from some strange sequences and turns that do not really fit into the grand scheme of things. One being, Wood is always rushing off stage every chance he gets and then returning right back in time to play his music. Another, is a low brow sub-plot involving friends of Emma’s who seem to get shafted from sitting with her in the balcony and eventually run afoul of an associate (played by Alex Winter of “the Lost Boys”) of the sniper. Then, in a weird turn from Tom, Emma is pushed into performing a song from the balcony to the concert audience. These little bits of uneven drama and hokum turns the movie into a distracting joke that depressurizes the otherwise taut story that Mira and writer Damien Chazelle have been successfully delivering.

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All is not lost and even when we only hear the sniper Clem (John Cusack), we get a very cool sense of urgency that works in the movie’s favor. Cusack gets very little screen time but he is quite effective as a very threatening and perilous individual looking to destroy Tom for his own personal and psychotic satisfaction. The final act is a bit formulaic and rushed but not unforgivable, in my opinion. The theatricality remains in constant flow and Mira’s film is worth a look for it’s smart build up of tension and characterizations.

One can be reminded, in parts of “Phone Booth” but Mira’s movie easily differentiates itself with smooth and ostentatious flourishes that are not overly gaudy or flamboyant. Also, Victor Reyes’ score is worthy of note here as well. It is solid and operatic in places and fits the precarious and showy camp through-out. Wood, Cusack and Mira’s effortless work in “Grand Piano” merit a recommendation and even if the ending may leave a bit of a sour taste in your mouth, do stay for the very final scene that proves once the conventions are over, Mira still has one classic number up his sleeve.

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    • Anytime, Michael! And thanks for the share on Twitter. I appreciate it very much. I hope you like it and let me know your thoughts, when you can, after you’ve viewed it.

      Thanks for stopping in, man!

  1. Just watched this… I’d give it a 6 out of 10. I love movie-ideas like this — where someone suddenly finds himself in a strange, impossible situation — and I thought they did a good job with this one. I can forgive plot-holes here and there, especially if the action is fast-paced, and there are plenty holes here, but they keep it moving along at a good clip. Movies like this remind me of “Buried” — one of my fans — which was directed by Rodrigo Cortes, and it was interesting to see his name in the credits as one of the producers.

    • I love films like that as well! Hitchcock and others were masters of those types of films and it is always a pleasure to come across a movie within that genre that is unique and bold. “Grand Piano” has quite a bit going for it in that regard despite some of the plot holes you mentioned (more on “Clem” would have been good but it never materialized).

      I didn’t know that Cortes was involved in this movie. That one, I missed during the credits. I watched “Buried” only once and never got around to reviewing it. I may give it a re-watch soon and see how it holds up for me. Thanks for checking in and the great feedback. I appreciate it!

  2. I can’t decide if this will be a movie I will like or just think ridiculous. Some of it sounds compelling, but the side story drama sounds very desperate and doesn’t sound like it’s handled all that well. Still, I like everyone in this and there could be some Taken-levels of suspense. Might be worth something. Good review Vic!

    • Thanks Tom! I must admit that the dramatic elements, aside from the visual and thematic tropes, may not be for everyone. In my opinion, the movie is worth a watch for the cast, tension and visual flair that is done pretty well. The film, with a tighter script, could have been way more nuanced than it really is.

      The movie isn’t very long, either, Tom. I would still safely recommend it if you go in with specific expectations. In that regard, if you shut down your brain a notch (like I did), you may enjoy it’s approach. It definitely has an air if implausibility, but what suspenseful thriller doesn’t?

      Thanks for checking in, Tom. It was a very pleasant surprise to hear from you, bud. I’ve been enjoying your reviews for Louie, lately. Keep it up and I will swing by your site this week to catch up, man. 😉

      • I know man, I have become a stranger lately. I will be doing the same here in the next coupe of days. This summer heat has me too lazy to read much of anything when I get in from work each day! 😛

      • I totally get you, man. No harm no foul. I have very little time these days to catch up with everyone like I want to. I hit Twitter once or twice a week to try and make an appearance. I try to devote some time to writing everyday when I can. Also, some reviews here and there but with the warm weather here, I am pretty busy busy going out and keeping myself busy with various things. I do appreciate the visit, Tom. Stay in touch, bro and I’ll definitely see you around 🙂

    • Not much at all. The film is a very well put together thriller. Great buildup, palpable tension and fantastic music and camera work. Wood and Cusack are pretty darn good here, as well. Thanks for checking in! 😉

    • Exactly, Dan. In that regard the film is really enjoyable. And it is, hands down, one of the nicest looking productions in a long while, as well. Has many solid elements of what makes a suspenseful thriller work, too.

      Thanks for checking in, Dan. I appreciate it and I’m glad you liked the review, bro. Stay in touch 🙂

    • I think you may enjoy it! The concept is quite good and it holds up nicely with the style and execution. The leads make it work and it has great visual chops.

      Thanks for checking in and I’m happy you enjoyed the review. Have a great weekend!

  3. Great review, Vic! I quite agree with everything you said, both the positives and the negatives. This wasn’t great, but it also isn’t as bad as it might have been.

    • Oh, I agree. The film could have easily crossed over in the ludicrous (and sometimes, I thought it would) but I think the great visual flair and the solid performances kept the movie steady and very enjoyable. Was it corny in places? Heck yeah. But was it entertaining and suitably suspenseful? Definitely.

      Glad you enjoyed my review and I appreciate you checking in and giving me some feedback on the movie. 🙂 Thanks!

  4. VIC!!!!!!!!!!! Hope you’re well man 🙂

    This is a film I have ready to watch, just on a lonnnnnng list and I will get to it. Your score gives me optimism that it will be a decent watch. Wood & Cusack are doing some pretty good horror at the minute.

    • TYSON!!! How are you, man! Great to hear from you! How is parenthood treating ya? I hope you are all well, my friend.

      Yeah, do give Grand Piano a shot. Pretty decent. It is now on Netflix Streaming if you have an account. I think you will like it.

      Stay in touch, Tyson! It was awesome to hear from you. All the best 🙂

      • Loving being a father, love it!!! Yeah hopefully this is me back now. I made a little post last week, so im trying to start the ball rolling and get back in touch with everyone again 🙂

      • Yeah, I was just over there! Great to see you back, Tyson. As you can see, many people really missed you, man 🙂

        If you need anything feel free to shoot me a message. Take care!

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