I had no idea what to expect going into this one. Elijah Wood (Wilfred) always interests me as an actor, and I don’t usually care for John Cusack (Being John Malkovich), so to see them as adversaries in a cat and mouse thriller instilled no clue as to what I was about to watch. Wood plays Tom, a world-class pianist who has been off the scene for five years since he choked at a major concert. He returns to the stage to pay tribute to his dead friend only to find himself the target of a psychotic sniper (Cusack). With his wife (Kerry Bishé) watching from the wings and an opera house full of adoring fans, Tom has to figure out how to appease the gunman to keep himself and his wife safe.
Unfortunately, Grand Piano never seems quite sure of what kind of movie it wants to be. The structure is definitely going for thriller, but there are a number of comedic elements that A) distract from the tension, and B) don’t feel very intentional. Examples of this include when the concert begins and we see a shot from over Emma’s (Bishé) shoulder, and the guy sitting next to her is texting. Another is the way the Cusack character first makes contact with Tom; writing notes in his sheet music. The way he anticipates how Tom will react to his messages, and then writes messages to play to those anticipations is quite humorous at a time when the film is supposed to build tension.
The performances here from Wood, and what little we get from Cusack, are good. I don’t know if Wood actually knows how to play piano that well, or if he’s just really good at faking it, but it all looked pretty real to me as a layman. Cusack was fine, though I imagine any actor could have played that role with the same skill. My biggest problem with his character, and the film overall, is that we never learn why he’s tormenting Tom. We get little snapshots into his character. He may mention that he’s been planning this for three years, or that he knows this particular piano better than anyone, but his motives remain mostly unclear once the credits begin to roll. Grand Piano is no Othello and our sniper character is no Iago, so some explanation would have been welcome.
The lack of explanation surrounding Cusack’s character is ironic considering how much exposition the beginning of the film has. This is another thing that quickly became humorous in its absurdity, as Tom feels compelled to tell the audience through conversations with 3 different characters that he hasn’t played for five years, and that he hasn’t played because he choked so badly that last time, which was five years ago. See what I did there?
The movie is visually very pretty, given the setting, and the way the two lead characters are forced to communicate through unconventional means is an interesting narrative device, but all in all, this was a pretty big letdown.
Special features include several behind the scenes featurettes and interviews, as well as the film’s soundtrack, which is the one truly phenomenal thing about this movie if you like classical music. Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Magnet Entertainment on May 20.