Grand Piano (2013)

Famed concert pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is making his comeback at a show organised by his actress wife Emma (Kerry Bishé), five years after a famous on-stage fumble. His stage fright is compounded when he discovers a message from a sniper, threatening to kill him if he plays a false note.

The bizarre premise (Phone Booth for classical music fans?) might put off some people, but I would urge anybody up for a bit of fun to give it a go. There is something delightfully off-kilter about the whole thing, in both performances and design. The main stage where most of the action takes place has a Saul Bass vibe that really pleased me.

Grand Piano is often like watching a man walk a tightrope suspended over a vat of jelly. It is obviously a ridiculous situation, and threatens to fall into a sticky mess at any moment, yet it is still oddly captivating and occasionally genuinely thrilling. The short running time works in the film’s favour, with the whip-crack pace robbing us of the opportunity to question any of the madness.

Elijah Wood is convincingly nervy, while John Cusack (despite literally phoning it in for most of the film) delivers a nicely menacing performance as the sniper. Bishé is underused, though the distancing of the character does help the plot mechanics as Cusack starts to emotionally batter Wood. Alex Winter is wonderfully odd as the villain’s right-hand man, creepy in an incompetent sort of way. Allen Leech (Downton Abbey’s Branson) and Tamsin Egerton turn up briefly, have a great time hamming it up, and get dispatched in a delicious scene reminiscent of Dario Argento.

Indeed, good though Eugenio Mira’s direction is, I couldn’t help but wish that somebody had passed this script Argento’s way. The whole films feels like an amped-up – though gore-wise rather neutered – version of his film Opera, with obsessive performer facing obsessed maniac. The finale reflects both the work of Argento and that of his protégé Michele Soavi (all cogs and keys). There are also, perhaps unavoidably, moments that recall The Man Who Knew Too Much.

It’s completely over the top, definitely, but the cracking pace and fun performances should keep you onside until the final note.