‘Grand Piano:’ Major Chords, Minor Disappointment

A classical concert seems to be a head-knockingly obvious setting in which to set a thriller. Built in creepy soundtrack, an airtight, tense formality pervading the place to begin with, and a real chance for theatrics. So, conceptually, Grand Piano should win something. Get a pat on the back. Big thumbs up. Makes a good bit of sense.

The film follows famed concert pianist, Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), as he arrives in Chicago for his big comeback performance. This night follows a five-year hiatus from the stage that Tom took after choking really badly on a difficult piece of music in front of a lot of people. He is married to a giant movie star (Kerry Bishé) whose friends are some bimbo and Branson from Downton Abbey (he has a name. It’s Allen Leech (WOW, that was definitely not what I expected his name to be. It’s not bad. Just…surprising. Right?))!

Tom struggles to make it to the theater on time and hops up on stage, sweaty and panting, to play on the piano of his recently deceased mentor, Patrick Godureaux, who was rumored to have left a hidden fortune when he died. As he turns the pages of his sheet music, Tom sees a note in red ink between the bars: “Play one wrong note and you die.” The killer eventually finds himself in an earpiece, talking to Tom, threatening his life and the life of his wife. It’s John Cusack, and as far as menacing murderer voices go, Lloyd Dobler wouldn’t be my first choice. “I gave her my heart and she gave me a piano” just doesn’t quite do the trick.

The concept is so promising; the execution is disappointing. Its low budget shows. Grand Piano is clearly a movie that couldn’t spring for better supporting actors or at least another take of some of the hokey lines they deliver. The dialogue seems contrived and almost student-film like and the plot lacks texture and substance. We could have been witness to a crazed psychopath’s twisted quest for artistic perfection or the painfully precise psychological torture of a formerly disgraced and humiliated pianist. Instead, it is mapped out for convenience – a greedy sniper who isn’t very good at planning murders wants some money – and still filled with holes. Discordant strings and close-ups of sweat beads on foreheads aren’t strong enough to keep this concept afloat.

A twenty or thirty minute version of this film could have blown the house down, maintained suspense, and cut the fat around the really intriguing part of this: a man fighting for his life while trapped in public, in plain sight, in front of a full theater of clueless concert-goers. Dramatic irony at its basest and most primal, yet set in a proper, highbrow world.

It’s still kind of fun in an almost parodic, B-movie sort of way, but judging by its visual filmic style, that’s not exactly what they were going for. There are a few stellar moments where you nod your head and go, “Yeah, that’s clever,” but mostly, Grand Piano feels a little bit like classical music itself: sometimes a little hard to take seriously, not quite “hip” to the qualities of more recent examples of work in its genre, and filled with a disturbing amount of whispery John Cusack (by which I mean, classical music should have WAY more. Like a ton more. Classical music should include way more of John Cusack whispering threats. That is my plea).

Grade: B-

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