If you can suspend your disbelief for ninety minutes to enjoy a clever, though implausible, thriller, then Grand Piano is a film you will want to seek out. Some films simply aspire to entertain their audiences. There’s no symbolism or sub-text to be found because none is attempted. Grand Piano is a thriller that revels in its “thrillerness” and is content keeping its audience guessing by throwing in the occasional plot twist to send the action careening in a new direction.
Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, a piano virtuoso who suffered a major meltdown on stage five years ago and hasn’t performed in public since. It is the evening of his major comeback. A custom-made piano designed by his mentor has been flown in for the occasion. His wife and friends are on hand to witness his musical rebirth. Tom paces backstage fighting the jitters that sidelined his career, knowing this is his last shot at a life as a professional musician. When his name is announced, he trots onstage to find a message scrawled on his sheet music: “Play one wrong note and you die.”
Is this someone’s idea of a practical joke? A few more pages into the score, Tom decides this threat is real. With the laser site of a sniper’s rifle dancing across the keys along with Tom’s fingers, the prodigy contemplates his fate while never missing a note or rest. Is this the act of some deranged fan? Could it be professional jealousy run amok? Or is it something else altogether? It will take another eighty minutes for you to find out.
The film unfolds during this single performance with the concert hall serving as the film’s primary set. At times such a premise can collapse under the weight of its own confinement (Phone Booth). With the camera swooping and gliding from the stage to the seats to the balcony, the kinetic cinematography keeps Grand Piano in perpetual motion. Each scene and plot detail ultimately prove to be important. As a result, the film makes the most of its running time and never overstays its welcome.
There is a tendency to refer to any film with a clever plot twist as “Hitchcockian”. There is nothing stylistically reminiscent of that master of film on display here. However, Grand Piano does owe a nod of appreciation to the early films of Brian DePalma, a director who loved to playfully tweak standard thriller tropes (Dressed to Kill, Body Double, Snake Eyes) before he ultimately descended into self-parody in his most recent films. Grand Piano has a wicked little sense of humor that surfaces from time to time. There’s one laugh-out-loud moment toward the end of the film, but I don’t want to spoil it by giving it any context here. You’ll know it when you see it.
Grand Piano is a film that you give yourself over to and just go with it. If your thrillers must be grounded in realism and plausibility, then look elsewhere. That said, Grand Piano never becomes ludicrous or absurd. It’s not hammy or campy. You won’t laugh at the film. At times you will chuckle along with the film. This isn’t brain surgery, folks. It’s just fun.
[Grand Piano will receive a theatrical release in major markets on Friday, March 7th. It is available now on most VOD platforms.]
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.