Grand Piano plays like a homage to the work of Brian DePalma, the heir to Alfred Hitchcock’s edge of seat palm-sweaters. Eugenio Mira’s thriller sees pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) return to performing for the first time in five years following a bout of stage fright. Selznick receives a series of messages from an unseen assassin (John Cusack) who tells him that he will die if he plays a wrong note. Throughout the course of his performance he must try and get help, find his would-be assailant – all from behind his former mentor’s prized piano.
It’s a simple Hitchcockian set-up that works works because of it’s panache. Mira clearly wants to recreate the magic of early DePalma and he does well in mirroring the director’s style, using sweeping camera movements and split screen edits. The film’s flamboyance covers the plot holes and the elements which don’t work, helping Grand Piano become a well balanced, if not entirely original thriller (it has echoes of Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth).
Elijah Wood does well in the lead role, although he feels a little young to be a master pianist who hasn’t taken to the stage in half a decade. He’s engaging enough and manages to get across the terror and tension knowing that he must play the piano like he has never played before. Meanwhile, John Cusack is effective, if massively under-utilised as the mystery voice which taunts and threatens Wood’s character. Cusack and Wood don’t share the screen until the last fifteen minutes or so of the film and it’s a shame that the finale doesn’t have a touch more originality. Cusack is a good actor and he can do so much more than play a stock villain.
Oddly old-fashioned, Grand Piano is a well balanced thriller with a few solid moments of humour woven throughout. It’s not a totally edge of your seat thriller, but it has enough impressive moments to make it more than a film which is just a gimmick. By aping Brian DePalma’s style, director Eugenio Mira has delivered a thriller that feels classy, even if its roots belong in the B-movie arena.