Moments before his comeback performance, a concert pianist who suffers from stage fright discovers a note written on his music sheet that says “Play one wrong note and you die”. In the sights of an anonymous sniper, he must get through the most difficult performance of his life and look for help without being detected.
When I read the synopsis for “Grand Piano”, I thought that it could, obviously, go one of two ways. Either it could be a terrific suspense thriller or it could fall flat on its face. My overall reaction was that it was somewhere in between, leaning more towards good than bad. I only make this proclamation because in all my years of making, watching and reviewing movies, I’ve read many story-lines that sounded genuinely interesting only to be disappointed with the final result. With “Grand Piano”, the filmmakers took a big risk with the plot because almost all of the drama unfolds in one location, a concert hall. There have been many movies where most of the action takes place in one venue but only a select few that pulled the concept off successfully: “12 Angry Men”, “Reservoir Dogs” and “Tape”, to name but a few.
The reason I mention this is because when you set all or most of your story’s activities in one place, you run the risk of boring your audience. If that is indeed your story’s setting, then you’d better make damn sure you have a tight script and some terrific actors who can take the viewer’s mind off the individual locale. In “Grand Piano”, Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, a brilliant young concert pianist that suffers from severe stage fright who five years earlier, had a nervous breakdown on stage while trying to perform one of his late mentor’s seemingly impossible piano concertos. Tom is returning to Chicago to a sold-out venue where he will, once more, set out to achieve the impossible and finish the aforementioned concerto to the very end.
When he is finally introduced to the audience, he nonchalantly makes his way to the grand piano, bows to the crowd and as he sits down to begin playing, written on his sheet music in front of him are the words “Play one wrong note and you die”. Thinking it’s a joke, and not a very funny one, he quickly finds out that it is for real and with a supplied ear piece, he is able to listen to Clem (John Cusack), an obviously deranged gunman who claims to have a sniper rifle aimed at his beautiful wife Emma (Kerry Bishé) who is sitting in the audience. He informs Tom that if he plays one wrong note, he will kill her. For the next two hours, Tom has to figure out a way to outsmart Clem who, it appears, isn’t deranged after all but is very calculating and has been planning this scenario for some time now.
The film is evocative of Joel Schumacher’s 2002 movie “Phone Booth”, in which Colin Farrell’s character in New York City is trapped inside a phone booth and is informed by a gunman that he is pointing a rifle at him and if he tries to escape, he will be shot. Mr. Wood, for the longest time, had one of those eternally youthful faces and no matter what movie he made, he never seemed to age. Here thankfully, he has shed much of that and he truly carries the movie on his shoulders. It reminded me of the kind of movies Hitchcock used to make and I could very easily see him, if he were still alive, making a movie like this. Mr. Cusack only appears briefly at the end of the movie but we hear him for most of its 90 minute run time.
His character, in many ways, reminded me of his earlier depiction of Martin Blank, another assassin he portrayed so perfectly in the classic “Grosse Point Blank”. In that movie, he only killed bad people so maybe after years of being a puritan, he finally traded in his goody two shoes and went where the real money was. I do have to admit, the reason as to why Clem needs Tom to play the piano concerto perfectly, was an interesting twist that I didn’t see coming and one you will discover when you watch the movie. I haven’t seen Alex Winter (the “Bill & Ted” movies) in a long time and it was great seeing him here again. In the end, “Grand Piano” is not what I would call a masterpiece but it is entertaining and keeps you engaged right up to the very last shot.
In stores May 20th
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