REVIEW: Grand Piano (2013)

Poster – Magnet Releasing

The following is a review of Grand Piano – Directed by Eugenio Mira

Grand Piano is a mixture of a simple classical concert and Joel Schumacher’s thriller Phone Booth. Tom Selznick (played by Elijah Wood), a well-known pianist who has developed stage fright, is playing a comeback concert in Chicago. During his opening performance, Selznick notices a note written with a red marker on his sheet music.

A sniper, who seeks something inside of a piano, is threatening Selznick. If Selznick plays a single note wrong, the sniper will shoot and kill Tom Selznick and his girlfriend, Emma (played by Kerry Bishé). Selznick is in for a surprise, though, as one of the pieces of music he is forced to play perfectly is the very challenging and complex ‘La Cinquette.’

“Now you know the meaning of stage fright.”

After having been blown away by Damien Chazelle’s last two films – La La Land and Whiplash – I decided to look into Damien Chazelle’s other work. The first film that I thought of was 10 Cloverfield Lane, which he co-wrote, but as I have already reviewed that excellent 2016 thriller, I, instead, decided to look for a film he wrote, which definitely sounded like a Chazelle film – Grand Piano.

I was really surprised by the fact that I didn’t recognize the name of the director – Eugenio Mira – but that I actually did recognize the name of the second unit director (and producer) – Rodrigo Cortés, who directed the extremely underrated Buried starring Ryan Reynolds.

As for the film itself, other than the fact that it is a movie about musicians, the only thing that really reminded me of Damien Chazelle’s films was one sequence around the 25-minute mark where Selznick is playing the piano and doing so well – in spite of the shocking message on his sheet music – that the film rapidly cuts from one shot of him by the piano to the conductor and back to the piano.

It resembles a similar sequence in Whiplash between Miles Teller’s character and J. K. Simmons character, and I believe La La Land even includes such a sequence, where Ryan Gosling’s character is playing the piano and Emma Stone’s character is dancing along.

Although those sequences resemble the aforementioned sequence between Selznick and the conductor, it is not nearly as impressive in Grand Piano as it is in Whiplash or La La Land, as those sequences go back and forth more than once. In both Whiplash and La La Land, these sequences are seemingly supposed to show you how in synch the central characters are, but that’s not really the effect of the short sequence of shots in Grand Piano.

But enough about Whiplash and La La Land, let’s give Grand Piano the credit it’s due. I think it’s a really entertaining film with some suspense, though it’s not as suspenseful as the filmmakers were hoping for. John Cusack is great in his role, even though it doesn’t seem to be that much of a challenge. Elijah Wood is really good. He makes you believe in the terror Selznick feels, but he also manages to work well when his character takes charge of the situation.

Normally, I’m a big fan of thrillers like Grand Piano, but it was missing something. Again, it’s not as suspenseful as it seems to think it is. It is also just a really unbelievable plot, but that didn’t really take me out of the film. There is one character thrown in there that is about as believable as a cardboard cut-out, the character is very cartoony.

Also, the final payoff – including why the sniper had chosen to ‘torture’ Selznick, but also why he needed someone to play the piano perfectly – was a bit too odd, or strange, for me to find believable. However, while Grand Piano has an implausible plot and one or two thin supporting characters, it is a somewhat suspenseful and different thriller with a credible central performance.

6.9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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