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Grand Piano is Phone Booth in a concert hall

Sometimes the best or most interesting releases of the year fly under the radar. In The Catch Up, we shine a light on the films and albums we missed at first glance.

The pitch for Grand Piano is a simple one, but it was enough to hook me – it’s Phone Booth in a concert hall, with Elijah Wood in the Colin Farrell role and John Cusack as Kiefer Sutherland. Director Eugenio Miro squeezes as much as he can out of a simple premise, and while at times it plays out like an episode of a TV show stretched out to feature length, the result is an odd and highly enjoyable thriller.

On the night of his much-hyped return to the stage after a five-year absence, concert pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is held at gunpoint by a sniper (John Cusack) and forced to play without making a single mistake. While this is the crux of the film and where most of the dramatic tension is derived from, an obligatory and appropriately goofy backstory is packed in. Tom was the disciple of Patrick Godureaux, a world-famous pianist and composer whose vast fortune seemed to disappear without a trace after his death; Tom himself disappeared from the public eye around the same time, after a disastrous performance of “La Cinquette”, the “unplayable piece”. It is soon revealed that the two are linked; Cusack’s sniper hopes to gain the key to Godureaux’s fortune, which only Tom can access, for the key is hidden within Godureaux’s piano and will only come loose after a perfect performance of “La Cinquette”.

While it takes Miro some time to get Wood in front of his piano and place Cusack in his ear (Grand Piano is padded out like a student trying desperately to make the word length on a half-baked essay), once the stage is finally set and the pieces are in place he is able to deliver and maintain an astoundingly tense tightrope act for a solid 45 minutes. Wood is right at home here, perhaps the perfect star for the direct-to-VOD era. (Wood’s biggest roles of the last few years: the lead in the American adaptation of Wilfred, a minor role as Rashida Jones’ uncomfortable “gay best friend” in Celeste and Jesse Forever and Ad-Rock in the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right Revisited.) He plays perfectly off a villainous Cusack, who himself manages to strike just the right balance between menacing and outlandish.

Grand Piano is a bizarre child of Hitchcock, like this year’s goofy Side Effects. The latest hidden gem of the direct-to-VOD era, it manages to bounce around between fun and thrilling, and while it certainly isn’t transcendent, it never sets out to be. Grand Piano might not be the sleeper hit of 2014, but it’s certainly worthy of a night in on the couch.

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