“Grand Piano” is a frenetic, modern B-movie nod to the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.
Elijah Wood makes this mystery-suspense-thriller work, to the extent it does. Wood, who showed his knack for expressing a jagged mix of panic and courage as hobbit Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, does it again in “Grand Piano.” Playing a pianist-in-peril, the actor focuses intensely upon the devilishly tricky task his character must accomplish.
Technology helps “Grand Piano” tell its mystery-suspense story. Director Eugenio Mira and screenwriter Damien Chazelle hang much of the film on wireless communication, something far less ubiquitous in Hitchcock’s day.
Audiences will likely balk at implausible plot turns in “Grand Piano,” but Wood, playing virtuoso piano Tom Selznick, never wavers.
The actor earns a standing ovation, though the film doesn’t. Even though “Grand Piano” maintains an admirably taut tempo, it’s still the province of lesser cable TV networks.
Five years before the tension-filled concert that occupies most of “Grand Piano’s” 90 minutes, Wood’s Selznick left the concert stage in shame. He’d choked while playing “La Cinquette,” an impossibly difficult piece composed by his late mentor, Patrick Goderoux.
Five years after the disastrously incomplete performance, anxiety plagues Selznick as he flies into Chicago for his return to concert performance. He expects to fail in front of 4,000 concertgoers in a sold-out, dramatically designed concert hall. The audience will include his wife, a film actress.
“Grand Piano” hits false notes, including the rude radio interviewer who gives Selznick such a hard time as she interviews him hours before the concert. What’s more, it’s a joint interview with the pianist’s wife, Emma. Kerry Bishé, playing the supportive spouse, is another false note. The script mostly requires her to smile and wave to her fans. Even in that, she’s not convincing.
Also false is the other major name in the “Grand Piano” cast, John Cusack, and Don McManus, who plays the conductor for Selznick’s comeback concert.
Wood’s Selznick walks a high-wire line between brilliantly quick thinking and panic in “Grand Piano.” Like a great musician who performs the challenging works of master composers, he plays Selznick with a winning blend of passion and technical expertise.
It’s an expert performance, loaded with dramatic tension. It deserves a better vehicle than “Grand Piano.”