Grand PianoI’ve always liked Elijah Wood, going back to his days as a child actor, and I generally never favor child actors because so many of them are just so darn cuuuuute….  I admire the fact that he’s one of the few actors that was a credible kid thesp who successfully made the transition to adulthood and adult roles (although as an aging slob I’m annoyed he’s thirtysomething and could still pass for a high-schooler).  He’s never really got caught up in all of the Hollywood BS, he’s just gone out and worked.  The guy has a pretty rare versatility whereby he can anchor a mega franchise like Lord of the Rings or work just as well in a smaller piece.  Likewise, he has an ability to portray exasperation and yet maintain a resolve in his characters.  Plus he was freaky as fudge in Sin City, am I right?

Here in Grand Piano, a taut, Phone Booth-style thriller from director Eugenio Mira and writer Damien Chazelle, Wood lends a tense desperation to his character, Tom Selznick, who’s caught up in the mother of all tough crowd situations.  Selznick is acknowledged as the greatest pianist of his generation, which is great, except that he also has a crushing stage fright that caused him to tank a performance five years prior.  Now, he’s making his return to play a concert in Chicago, which was organized by his wife, famed actress Emma Selznick (Kerry Bishe).  He’ll be playing the personal grand piano of his mentor, who died recently, and was noted for secreting his fortune away somewhere.

Already apprehensive from trying to get a handle on his stage fright, Selznick soon discovers that he’s in the cross-hairs of a sniper (John Cusack) somewhere in the audience.  If he doesn’t play a certain piece of music perfectly, a piece that his mentor wrote and is deemed an unplayable piece, and is the piece which he bombed on in the last performance, the sniper will take out his wife and more than likely him as well.  It’s dastardly, I mean, there hasn’t been an affront to the arts like this since Natacha Kirilova was greased out in Paris.  From there it’s all about Selznick trying to get a handle on his stage fright, his desperation in keeping his wife safe and trying to figure a way out of the whole thing without ending the concert and both of their lives.  And holy crap, is that an Alex Winter sighting in this thing?!

While the gun-to-your-head thriller is nothing new, it’s almost always one of those types of movies that can really be something cool if someone can bring a new dimension to it, and that’s precisely what Mira and Cazelle do.  The setting and Selznick’s state of mind is a perfect set up for the concept.  Mira (who has some music credits of his own) has a good eye for making the cavernous music hall in which the story takes place feel claustrophobic at times.  Elijah Wood may have had a lot of more room to work in than Colin Farrell in Phone Booth, but he’s no less constrained by his fear and the situation.  John Cusack is surprisingly reserved as the voice of the sniper.  One would figure that he could easily be given license to cut loose here, but he generally keeps things as tight as a piano chord.

Clocking in at an expedient 78 minutes, Grand Piano is a stress-filled, atmospheric concert worth checking out.  It’s available on iTunes and OnDemand right now from Magnet Releasing and will be in theatres on March 7.