Once you've seen a lot of films in a single genre, it feels as if you can start predicting nearly every direction the feature will move in. However, this isn't always true, as some motion pictures do manage to deviate from the formula, but it generally isn't too difficult to see what movies a specific title has been inspired by. From there, you can generally guess where it's going to go. If you've seen Phone Booth back in the early 2000's, then you pretty much know the basic concept of director Eugenio Mira and writer Damien Chazelle's Grand Piano. While there are some changes, it clearly has its inspirations, making it a little bit more predictable than I would have liked. However, it isn't all about twists and turns, but is primarily about the build-up and how the picture is able to carry you. Fortunately, it succeeds in hooking its viewers and will most certainly keep your attention through its 90-minute running time. If you're a fan of these types of thrillers, then you just might find it to be your cup of tea.
Five years ago, concert pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) played a piece and suffered from stage fright. He choked and has been a joke made by audiences ever since. Now, he will be performing a comeback concert in order to compensate for what happened all of those years ago. He has the full support from his now famous wife, Emma (Kerry Bishé). Tom will be playing on a legendary piano that will be at the concert hall for one night only. He's absolutely terrified that he will suffer from stage fright once again. As he begins to play, he comes across various marks on his music sheet. He soon realizes that they have been made by a sniper, whose exact location is unknown. There are several notes across the pages alarming Tom that if he plays one note wrong, then he will die.
The idea behind Grand Piano is to take an already-tense situation and sky rocket that element. Not only are we concerned about Tom Selznick not getting choked-up on stage once again, but now we have to worry about him and/or his wife getting murdered for him making one single mistake. Even though there are a few scenes showing Tom and Emma getting ready for the concert, the majority of the film takes place within the concert hall. A part of the rules is that Tom cannot ask for help or let anybody know that anything is wrong, although in between rests and intermissions, he's forced to obtain certain things in order to make sure that he's able to perform his best. The plot itself is very straight-forward and it doesn't really deviate from the structure that we've come to know. However, that doesn't mean that it isn't able to build tension. There are some sequences that will have you on the edge of your seat for both reasons mentioned, which is a smart way to keep audiences engaged. With all of this knowledge that he's choked before, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that he could suffer from it once again. If anything, the plot with the man threatening his life sometimes takes a backseat to the piano playing.
One of the huge issues that I usually have with this type of thrillers is that the characters are idiots. This leads to them being seen in an incredibly unlikable light, which will lose viewers regardless of how tense the rest of your motion picture is. However, Grand Piano avoids this. Tom isn't a moron, as most of his actions are pretty reasonable. We never know very much about him as a man, yet we're still able to root for him through this situation. A lot of people have experienced stage fright at one point of their lives, so this is a relatable tension that will make it easier to sympathize with the main character. However, the character disposition is extremely limited. Even though the antagonist is clearly in the position of power, he never necessarily feels nearly as threatening as the possibility that Tom might choke-up yet again. He makes some mistakes that come across as very strange for somebody who has planned this so thoroughly. The running time is quite short, so perhaps the filmmakers could have provided a little bit more disposition on Tom and his wife before throwing them into the situation to allow us sympathize even more with what's happening to them.
The trailer alone received some criticism for seeming ridiculous, and the same can be said about the finished film. This wouldn't be an issue if it didn't take itself too seriously, but at times, it does. This isn't meant to be a mind-bending thriller that will change your perception on concert halls, as it's simply a captivating story about an extreme version of stage fright. The most important thing here is that it remains interesting throughout. It never overstays its welcome and it doesn't becomes repetitive. Instead, you have a tightly paced thriller that makes good use of its location. Even though we're primarily kept in this one place, there's enough going on that you won't be able to find a single dull moment. Of course, this is accomplished by the means of creating a really over-the-top twist that might pull some audiences out of the action. There could have been another way to explain the antagonist's motivation without coming across as being a bit of a lame crime novel.
Even though some elements of the film are a bit over-the-top, the majority of the acting isn't. Elijah Wood fits in the role of Tom Selznick nicely. He's certainly believable as this talented pianist who is struck with an outrageous amount of stage fright before performing on stage. Even once the twist reveals itself, he still remains convincing enough to carry this character and his motivations to the finish line. The sniper is primarily represented on screen by his voice, as he's only shown for a brief period of time. However, John Cusack does some worthy voice-over work, and even though you will instantly recognize the actor's voice, it doesn't detract from the intense situation that our protagonist finds himself in. When I said that the majority of the acting isn't over-the-top, that statement didn't include Kerry Bishé in the role of Emma. There are times when we're able to believe her as this character, but she becomes a bit melodramatic towards the end of the picture. You won't remember any of these performances very long after watching this, but most of the actors accomplish what they need to.
Director Eugenio Mira's visual work is surely inspired and successful in the tension that it's trying to achieve. Once Tom gets to the concert hall, everything has a grand, classy, and polished look to it. However, Mira's work doesn't truly shine until Tom begins playing the piano. There are a lot of sweeping shots and wonderfully-captured scenes with Tom's fingers running across the keys that perfectly represent the tension. There's a strong sense of urgency held throughout the motion picture that doesn't let up, and the same can be said about the editing. There's a lot of great classical music throughout the running time, which has wonderful clarity. When the score kicks in, it adds another dimension of stress for audiences to endure.
Grand Piano isn't the perfect thriller, but it achieves what it set out to do. This film had me sitting at the edge of my seat in suspense. The theme of stage fright is a strong one that most audiences can relate to. If you've experienced this feeling at some point in your life, then you will be able to relate to the fear of getting in front of a large audience with the potential of freezing. However, writer Damien Chazelle took this to another level with a Phone Booth-esque plot, and director Eugenio Mira accomplished that with his inspired shots that demand the viewers' attention. The twist might come across as being a bit over-the-top, but this is still a worthwhile mystery/thriller that will hold your attention from start to finish. Grand Piano is a thrilling display worth attending. Recommended.