Review by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Director: Eugenio Mira
Stars: Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishé, Alex Winter, Tamsin Egerton, Allen Leech, Don McManus
Running time: 90 minutes
Let's be clear: Grand Piano is patently absurd. That might be a problem if Spanish director Eugenio Mira (Agnosia) and his hammy cast were not completely in on the joke, embracing the absurdity and turning what could be a laborious, eye-rolling fail into a slick thriller that delivers suspense and laughs in equal measure.
Five years after botching a piece and developing a crippling case of stage fright, classical pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) and his dexterous hands return to the stage to honor his deceased mentor. While capably performing some of his instructor's most challenging works, Selznick discovers a menacing note written on his sheet music: Play a wrong note and you die. Practical joke this is not. An assassin (John Cusack) with a powerful silenced rifle and laser scope is in the house. Via earpiece, he conducts the pianist and demands that Selznick conclude the performance by masterfully playing the "unplayable piece" that screwed him up in the first place. If he fails, the gunman will give Selznick and his famous actress wife (Kerry Bishé) lead instead of standing o's. Talk about performance anxiety!
The assassin's motives in this certifiable cat-and-mouse plot are laughable, but then everything about the film is winking at the audience, including a number of references to classic thrillers (see the catalogues of Hitchcock, Polanski, Kubrick, etc.). Over-acted in a good way (yes, that's Alex Winter from The Lost Boys getting his henchman on), the wine-and-cheesy performances perfectly complement the absurdity of the situation. And like Wood's fingers, which dance manically over the ebony and ivory, the pace is fast and ticklish, eliciting appreciative giggles while still keeping the viewer on edge waiting for a false note. All respect due to Mira and his cast, there are none to be found.