A nifty little thriller that should cement director Eugenio Mira as "the" director to watch, "Grand Piano" is filled with Hitchcockian suspense and gorgeous shades of Brian DePalma. With a compelling performance by Elijah Wood ("Lord of the Rings" trilogy) the film is a noose-tightening 80 minutes of masterful direction.
Tom Selznick is a world-famous pianist whose flub of an "unplayable" piece of music by the master pianist that trained him has caused him to enter retirement at a young age. But after the death of his mentor, he arrives back on the scene for one final show. His adoring wife Emma (Kerry Bishe) -- a well-respected and beloved actress -- is there to lend her support as all eyes are on Tom... oncluding a variety of musicians who aren’t too fond of him and worry that he’ll have another breakdown.
The story kicks into gear fairly swiftly with Tom getting nervously off a plane, quickly changing into his tux in the limo ride to the concert hall, and then mentally preparing himself for the event. But it is when he is finally onstage and effortlessly playing through the first piece with an on-stage orchestra that his world is turned upside down. A message scrawled in red marker tells him that he must play the concert to perfection -- not missing a note -- or he will be killed on the spot by a sniper’s bullet.
As the concert goes on, he is forced to run back to his dressing room where he is given a Bluetooth earpiece so the culprit in question (played by John Cusack) can give him further instructions -- or threats, as it were, because if Tom doesn’t do what this man wants, his wife’s life is in jeopardy as well. Of course, the question of the night is, why this man is doing this? And what is it he wants? That reveal is as smart as the film itself and it plays out like an intricate masterwork shaped by a madman.
Elijah Wood is never one to be in leading man mode, but he excels here as a man caught between his own personal demons and the demons of an unknown crazy person. Even more impressive is that it is all him up there on stage playing the piano. Using specific animatics, the filmmakers mapped out which sections of music would be on camera and Wood then worked with a pianist to perfect those sequences. It’s a lovely feat as this film wouldn’t have been as compelling if we knew time and again it wasn’t Wood’s fingers poised above the keys.
Credit must also go to cinematographer Unax Mendia who swoops around the stage like a magician making what could be a claustrophobic film feel spacious and alive. The music by Victor Reyes is flawless and, of course, Eugenio Mira handles the proceedings like an old school master. It’s a harrowing and nail-biting piece that is well worth tuning in for.