Rarely does a hostage thriller go so far off the rails and, yet, remain genuinely refreshing all at once. Appropriately, Grand Piano, the latest film from director Eugenio Mira, almost feels like a dare taken to its full conclusion — because, even with a significant skillset, how one can make playing the piano a thrilling and wild event? Answering this question paves the way for a truly filmic picture that embraces the chaos of reality and how well-laid plans can consistently disintegrate once the human element is added.

We follow Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), who, with his beautiful wife (Kerry Bishé) and incredible skills for performance, seems to have it all. Having not played in public for over five years — over time, further and further earning a reputation for clamming up during his last performance — his wife sets up a performance that serves two distinct purposes: paying tribute to a deceased mentor while, too, reintroducing Tom to the public. When a crazed man (the voice of John Cusack) takes the quality of this performance personally, events turn sour in a manner that proves perilous for Tom, yet insanely rewarding for the audience.

While these high-concept thrills, under many circumstances, could preclude a crucial human element, Wood proves uncommonly authentic as a concert piano player. It is, in part, when a viewer’s incapable of determining whether he’s actually playing or just miming; that’s genuinely how good he looks with the Grand Piano‘s quick cuts and constant racking on the man’s hands. On paper, this film shouldn’t work — the premise would almost make one thing a Mad Libs sheet was taken and turned into a full blown feature — but perhaps unbridled insanity is exactly what drew out the best in the cast and crew. What results, ultimately, is a film that is not only original, but pushes the genre forward, to some extent, showing just how much can be crafted from some familiar narrative trappings (e.g. the severely underrated Phone Booth).

Seen in the context of its wild premise, the level of confidence evident throughout Grand Piano deserves commendation, from the music — again and again, the sound work is hugely engrossing — to the plotting too the effectively sparse production design. Grand Piano can be enjoyed from multiple perspectives: it will satisfy the film buff, the tech hound, and the sit-back-and-be-entertained audience. That’s the type of quality filmmaking and slick production you hope to find, even in a low-resource effort of this type, and Grand Piano delivers on that front.

Grand Piano premiered at Fantastic Fest 2013 and will be released in 2014 via Magnolia Pictures. One can watch the trailer here.

Grade: B+

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