Play one note wrong and you die. Try to get help and your wife dies. And I thought the symphony was boring.
Grand Piano was an intense thriller using a rather simple story. Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is making an on-stage comeback after previously freezing-up while playing a difficult piece five years earlier. During the comeback performance, which was encouraged by his actress-singer wife, he notices markings in the sheet music—given to him by an usher—and quickly learns that he’s being held hostage. Who would hold a pianist hostage—a locksmith that designed a mechanism in the piano being played which holds a key to Selznick’s deceased mentor’s lost fortune. Sounds bizarre. How is the key retrieved? By playing the last four bars of the difficult piece that Tom butchered years before. In order to release the key from the piano and not get himself or his wife killed, Tom has to change his performance pieces mid-concert, communicate by earpiece with an assassin and play the difficult musical composition by memory after the sheet music is destroyed.
Taking place in a concert hall, I must bring up the fantastic musical score, and even when there was no dialogue taking place, the music successfully set the tone—especially when the usher, played by Alex Winter (A.K.A. Bill S. Preston Esquire), slashed the girl’s throat with a shard from a broken mirror. I’m glad they didn’t show it and let the music portray the murder.
At one point, while playing, Tom successfully contacts a friend in the audience, played by Allen Leech of Downton Abbey fame, by secretly using his cell phone to call and text him. I thought this series was well-done as an initial attempt to outsmart the villain (played by John Cusack). Tom later improvises a duet with the conductor on keys and his wife from a balcony on vocals in order to search for the assassin.
I’m really glad the action didn’t progress out of the theater. When Tom was playing the broken piano in the moving truck at the end (yes, Wood and Cusack fall off the rafters in the climax and Cusack lands on the grand piano), I was half expecting Cusack to show up in the background and steal the key after it was revealed. Then there’d be car chases and a race to a vault and it would’ve been stupid. So glad this didn’t happen.
The length of the film was just right and I never found myself shaking the Wii remote to see how much time remained. And although the film was a thriller, it did show some hints of humor. “I think I broke my leg.” And I loved the Rock-afire Explosion reference. The concept of a symphony audience not knowing the difference when an incorrect note is played was also a nice touch, after Tom deliberately misplays the final note of the piece—to not release the key—but still receives a standing ovation.
I don’t have much negative to say on this one. The opening titles, although cool, did run a little bit long and that first song in the end credits was a bit annoying although appropriate.
All-in-all, I thought Grand Piano was very well-done, well-acted and entertaining. Despite being sequestered to the music hall, I thought all the leads interacted great together and created the necessary tension for the situations. I can see why it was nominated for the Saturn Award for best independent film. I’m giving this a solid B+