Please don’t tell this week’s film it was second choice. I think it already knows, though—a thriller about a piano concert isn’t really anyone’s first choice, is it?
Where to Watch:
The Uncondensed Version:
In the concert event of the classical music scene, Tom Selznick (aka Elijah Wood) is making a dramatic comeback after his breakdown 5 years ago. Since he froze up onstage while attempting to play his mentor’s impossibly composition, Tom’s gone nowhere near a piano, much less played a sold-out concert in NYC. Additional point of interest: Tom’s mentor, Patrick, died a year ago, with his fortune mysteriously disappearing shortly thereafter. This has all the makings of an Agatha Christie—all we’re missing is a mustachioed Belgian appearing out of nowhere to make wry observations.
Understandably, Tom is so so goddamn nervous about his return to the stage and feels unworthy of using Patrick’s piano and fears a repeat of his breakdown 5 years ago. Luckily, Tom has his world-famous actress wife, Emma, and his bff Wayne (played by Branson from Downton Abbey whose name I’m too lazy to look up) to believe in him. By all accounts, this evening should be a glowing return to the classical music world for Tom.
But that would make for a very short film. Shortly after Tom begins to play, he notices annotations on his sheet music—annotations demanding he play flawlessly or else…he’ll DIE, along with Emma. This mystery person, played by John Cusack, has planned things out very well, planting an usher to carry out some unsavory tasks, leaving an earpiece for Tom to find so they can communicate, and relying on the spectacle of the stage to help him get away with it all.
Ultimately, John Cusack (I can’t remember the character’s name, if it’s even provided beyond “Mysterious Sniper Who Takes Music Appreciation a Bit Too Seriously”) expects Tom to play the impossible piece without missing a single note. For someone who doesn’t seem to be musical, he has a lot to say about musicians who aren’t also composers…? He claims to want the most perfect concert experience ever and to go down in history, even going as far to give this big pretentious speech about how this has nothing to do with money…and then it turns out to be about money. Because of course it fucking does.
Sorry this is really spoilery, but I need to share the absurdity of the premise (which is already pretty over-the-top to begin with). What is all of this about? A key that will be released from WITHIN the piano which will unlock the safe deposit box where Patrick’s fortune is hidden. And, of course, how is this key released? By playing his composition without a single error. Obviously.
Tom is actually pretty smart about the whole thing, playing it much cooler than I probably would have. He’s quite good at calling bluffs…well…some of them. There are a couple that don’t end particularly well for Wayne and his date. He also overcomes the obstacle of not having the sheet music to the piece in a pretty clever way. I will leave you in suspense about whether this is enough for Tom to outsmart John Cusack.
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
I will say this: you do get to hear some very nice piano playing in this film.
IDK, I think because the premise seemed straight-up out of Agatha Christie, I was really disappointed Patrick didn’t fake his own death and then just sort of fuck with Tom. If I had a protégé, that’s probably what I’d ultimately do.
Also like an Agatha Christie novel, I didn’t like any of the characters in this, but this wasn’t for any real reason. I was hoping Tom would be a bit morally ambiguous like every Christie character ever so there might be tension created about whether or not he should get out of this situation alive. But that never happened—he remained bland as ever yet uncommonly lucky. I ended up really resenting both him and Emma for seeming so effortlessly successful, yet doing very little to earn the money, fame, respect, etc. Tom also seemed to have very little motivation to return to the stage, and even the sniper had a rather boring motive, i.e. money. I just feel if you’re going to do something so out of sync with social norms, it’s rather odd to care so much about a pretty ordinary thing, aka money.
There are some truly suspenseful moments, like when we see the inner workings of the piano as Tom plays, but overall the entire movie is held back by a silly premise. Plus the opportunity for the line “Play it again, Tom,” is missed.
However, on the bright side, Nicki Minaj’s “Grand Piano” is now stuck in my head for the rest of eternity. And probably yours too. You’re welcome.