Elijah Wood’s concert pianist Tom Selznick can’t catch a break. After a five-year hiatus following a public demonstration of his inability to perform a certain piano piece, he returns to the stage only to be forced to play that particular unplayable piano piece once again. Forced? Yes, by John Cusack’s angry sniper hissing in his ear, a man who threatens to kill Selznick’s wife if he plays one wrong note or attempts to draw attention to his situation. It’s a high-stakes premise that certainly takes one or two notes from Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth but unfortunately Grand Piano never reaches those heights.
Its first half is good: the cinematography is spectacular, the main actors do a great job and the mood’s set, the predicament introduced. Safe for two idiotic and annoying supporting characters everything works just fine and before long you are wondering what it is exactly the sniper wants from Wood’s Tom. The tension builds and meanwhile the film’s rather elegant due to its setting and the way the camera registers the concert hall and Wood’s combined acting and piano playing. It’s the second half where Grand Piano falters. In an effort to spice things up it goes overboard: slasher film clichés find their way into the movie and the marksman’s hidden agenda proves to be entirely ridiculous and forgettable.
Wood needs to be commended though: he gives his character Tom Selznick just the right amounts of fear and anger to draw you in and keep you invested. Additionally it’s a wonder to behold a scene in which he needs to act, play piano and text at the same time. Quite the effort. John Cusack does fine too with a part that mostly only allows him use his voice. It’s a shame his character becomes more of a caricature and less of a menace as the film progresses, but even early on he lacks the calm and convinced demeanor that made Keifer Sutherland’s Phone Booth villain such a great one. Cusack’s performance is mainly just angry, because his character is nowhere near as developed as Sutherland’s was.
Grand Piano loses its way near the halfway mark and doesn’t recover. Because of it the tension it built up vanishes, resulting in a disappointing and overblown ending. 5/10