The short version:
Go see this in the theater. While the story will certainly translate to the smaller screen, the composition deserves to be seen in a larger format. Much like the plot, it is bigger than it seems and shouldn’t be constricted by a television screen for your first viewing. And, besides, if you want to see the really original stuff get made, you need to support it lest we end up with a never-ending march of sequels, prequels, actioners, and formulaic junk.
For those that insist on knowing a bit more, I have provided for that eventuality:
After Moonrise Kingdom, I was afraid Anderson may have peaked in his storytelling ability. Instead, he came out with this gem of a tale that is magical and sweet, but far from simple or nice. Much like the balalaika music on which it is structured, it sweeps you along to a breathless ending that leaves you full of wonderment, love, and bit of sadness. (If you think I’m smoking crack on that last assertion, sit through the credits.)
Watching a director evolve and improve over the years can be an amazing thing. Anderson’s vision, which I first discovered with Rushmore, grabs you with its deceptive simplicity. He just lays out a story in beautiful language, both spoken and visual, and allows you to ride it where you will. With The Darjeeling Limited he seemed to find a new and mature voice without losing the magic he brought with him as as younger filmmaker.
Not all writer/directors are as fortunate. I don’t want to turn this into a tale of two directors, but I discovered Anderson at the same time I discovered Russell (American Hustle). For me, the trajectory of their careers is utterly linked. My reaction to their ongoing work could also not have taken more different courses.
Russell, in my opinion, has slipped into providing what he thinks the public wants (and certainly his box office implies that). His early films, such as Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees, were bizarre but brilliant. They had a unique point of view and way of telling that story. However, his films over recent years have grown clumsy, predictable, and, frankly, uninteresting. What he does know is how to package them well, and he has the star power to help sell them. Basically, Russell bought into his own hype and dished up more of the same… with extra glitter.
Anderson, on the other hand, continues to refine his craft and clings to his private experience with script and camera in the belief that others will appreciate it. Each of his last several movies built on the previous skills, be it cinematography, language, or even stop-action animation to enhance the story. In the case of Budapest, he constructed the story, consciously or not, upon the very cultures he was referencing by co-opting matyoshka dolls for the nested structure and the music of the region to provide the pacing and structure. It is both absurd and glorious and, honestly, what movie making and movie going is all about: magic.
There are some criticisms I have of the film, but I’m still sifting the experience. For instance, the picture flips between 4:3 and widescreen… and I can’t quite find the reason for the choices. I thought I had, but then the rules I thought I’d deduced were violated and so I was simply left perplexed. Regardless of the aspect ratio, the picture was always gorgeous and expertly composed so it wasn’t distracting, just curious. I plan on buying this film at some point and will rewatch it to see if I can find a more specific reason for his choices.
There is, of course, a fabulous cast to go with this film. Fiennes (Coriolanus) drives the film with unending veneer of charm and wit that cracks at just the right moments. Opposite Fiennes, new-comer Revolori plays a great straight-man to the antics and dangers that accrue. Behind them is a host of supporting roles that glue the story together.
After a curious opening scene, that eventually pays off, Wilkinson (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Law (Anna Karenina) provide the excuse for the story, first grabbing us and then fading to allow Abraham’s (Inside Llewyn Davis) tale to be told. Truth be told, the film brims with talent in large and small parts alike. It is like walking into a playground of the incredibly talented and watching them all just have fun. However, above them all, Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) has the best cameo, provided early in the film, and completely unforgettable.
To repeat (because I do think it is that important to say): Go see this in the theater. While the story will certainly translate to the smaller screen, the composition deserves to be seen in a larger format. Much like the story it tells, it is bigger than it seems and shouldn’t be constricted by a television screen for your first viewing. And, besides, if you want to see the really original stuff get made, you need to support it lest we end up with a never-ending march of sequels, prequels, actioners, and formulaic junk.