Grand Piano takes the simplest of plots and turns it into a taut thriller that is worthy of widespread praise. Eugenio Mira directs with an authority and flourish that is sadly lacking from the majority of genre entries, especially of recent vintage, and is savvy enough to know how to let his technique serve the story. While it would be simple enough to dismiss Grand Piano as a knockoff of Phone Booth or any number of Brian De Palma films, this movie elevates itself above the riff-raff and stands as a technical thriller that manages to create a gripping tension for the entire running time.
Elijah Wood stars as Tom Selznick, a gifted pianist that has been away from the concert stage for five years following a disastrous performance that frazzled his nerves and left him with a debilitating case of stage fright. At the behest of his movie star wife Tom is taking the stage again for a special performance in honor of his late mentor and instructor. As he sits in front of the piano and the concert begins he notices the red dot of a rifle scope and that someone has written on his sheet music, “Play one wrong note and you’re dead.”
There is very little to discuss about the plot that isn’t covered in the synopsis. This is as straightforward as it gets with no fluff or filler to pad the run time any longer than it needs to be. Elijah Wood is remarkable in that he plays Selznick as both emotionally out of control while still being physically competent to play the piano. It is a delicate balance and Wood does a fine job throughout. There is also something to be said for Wood’s ability to portray the crippling nervousness of the character without being showy or histrionic. Emotionally unhinged and low-key are two traits that require skill to portray together without the performance swinging wildly one way and then the other, to which Wood manages nicely.
John Cusack costars, in a sense, as the mostly unseen puppet master behind the scenes. The brilliance of Cusack’s casting is the weight he can bring to a role that is merely the voice on the other end of the line. He conveys menace in all the right ways and still manages to be charismatic while he’s at it. There are few actors who could fill this role and still manage to bring it such high regard.
Grand Piano is the third feature film and first I’ve seen from Spanish director Eugenio Mira and based on this I wholeheartedly look forward to his future endeavors. I was amazed at the way Mira keeps the camera constantly moving and still frames exquisite compositions in the frame. There are very few static shots in the film and the consistent motion serves the story well. Not only does the motion ramp up the underlying unease, but when he does settle in on a static shot it really pops. It is meticulous camerawork and both Mira and cinematographer Unax Mendia deserve to be lauded for it.
Grand Piano is a first rate thriller with top notch performances, dazzling camerawork, and wonderful music. Both the score and the onscreen concert performances are quite good with an opening credit sequence that is haunting and beautiful. Eugenio Mira directs a gem here that I hope finds the audience it deserves. Grade: A-