Masterful Wes Anderson at his best with ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’

Reviewer’s Rating: ★★★★

Art, craft and gently demented humor have never before coalesced so deliciously in a Wes Anderson film as they do in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Anderson, the exacting visual stylist and idiosyncratic storyteller responsible for “The Royal Tenebaums,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and the animated but thoroughly Andersonian “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” serves his guests meticulously assembled fun in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

The movie’s carefully framed compartment shots, pastel palette, exteriors rendered via intricate models and winking nostalgia for a bygone era show Anderson at his wry, peculiar best.

Anderson also found the perfect thespian to play his rogue of a hero. British actor Ralph Fiennes proudly wears the uniform of Monsieur Gustave H, the charming man who is the detail-obsessed concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Writer-director Anderson sets his story between the two World Wars, circa 1932. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a legendary institution in the Eastern European nation of Zubrowka. Reflecting current events — that would be Russia’s annexation of Crimea — Zubrowka is about to be absorbed by an invading military force.

As the eager-to-serve Gustave, the effortless Fiennes is all smoothness and smiles. Before history has its way with Zubrowka and Gustave, too, he’s having a marvelous time. A former lobby boy, Gustave ascended into the managerial position he relishes. Life is beautiful for Gustave and his guests. In the most obvious sense of the word, Gustave’s foil throughout the story is young Zero Moustafa. A refugee from a violence-torn Middle-Eastern country, Zero gets hired without Gustave’s blessing to be the hotel’s new lobby boy.

Tony Revolori co-stars as the aptly named Zero, always by Gustave’s side. It’s a subtle, quiet performance accented by only the rarest protest. Unlikely as it is that Fiennes and Revolori will reprise their roles as Gustave and Zero, they nevertheless are the screen’s new great comedy team.

True to Anderson’s stylist quirks, he fills his new cinematic excursion with familiar faces from his previous films. The often fleeting supporting roles occupied by Bill Murray, Mathieu Amalric, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel and Bob Balaban blend neatly into the grand scheme of things. And they all get great costumes.

Doing some of the plot’s heavier, funnier work, Willem Dafoe co-stars as a leather-clad thug who works for Dmitri (Adrien Brody), the ruthless heir of one of Gustave’s elderly lady friends. Both characters wear villain black.

Anderson’s star-loaded cast — including Fiennes in a career-highlighting comic performance — is vast, but it can’t bump the director from being the most important occupant of “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Anderson is a master at creating worlds that are grounded in reality yet distinctly of his own invention.