There aren't many directors who have composed the music for their own movies, but Spanish filmmaker Eugenio Mira has -- not counting "Grand Piano," in which Elijah Wood, eschewing the hairy Frodo feet, plays a master pianist being threatened with death while playing the most important and difficult concert of his career. " 'Speed' at the Keys," one could call it, and someone probably already has.
Although "Grand Piano's" score is mostly classical, Mira's appreciation for sound is one of the more effective aspects of this absurdly plotted thriller, but one in which the various elements pack a punch. The opening titles combine Victor Reyes' ominous theme music with the tuning of a piano, the turning and creaking taking on a symphonic creepiness. On his way to Chicago is Tom Selznick (Wood), who has decided to end a five-year retirement by playing his late mentor's music -- and on his eight-octave Bösendorfer. He starts the day sweating through a turbulent flight, and confronts the evening's concert with lingering dread. That every round of applause is tweaked into the sound of a jet engine provides a level of subliminal angst.
Of course, if Mira pulled this trick once rather than four times, it would be out of step with an outlandish movie whose very premise is the stuff of paranoid fantasies and performance anxiety. Opening his score on stage, Tom finds a handwritten warning: Play perfectly or die. A laser pointer indicates there's a weapon at the other end; Tom's wife, a singing star (Kerry Bishé), is in the balcony, and as Tom is warned (through an earphone by which his nemesis talks to him throughout the performance), she's in peril, too. The whole thing is nuts, but Mira maintains a credibly awful atmosphere. And even though the score allows the piano to drop out for what seems like 475 measures -- enough for Tom to visit the dressing room, or engage in lengthy verbal warfare with his antagonist (John Cusack) -- "Grand Piano" will strike a chord, especially among those willing to suspend their disbelief.
PLOT On stage after a five-year retirement, a world-class pianist finds himself in the crosshairs. Literally.
RATING R (language)
CAST Elijah Wood, Kerry Bishé, John Cusack
BOTTOM LINE Preposterous, but much anxious fun.