Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is the protégé of one of the greatest pianists of all time who has recently passed away, leaving the whereabouts of hs vast fortune unknown, not by Tom and not by his estate. The stage was set for him to follow in his mentor's footsteps as one of the most lauded of his profession, but some years ago it all went horribly wrong when Tom was trying to play a passage known as The Impossible Piece in front of a packed concert house and embarrassed himself by getting it wrong when he reached the final four bars. He has never recovered from the shame, which makes his return to the classic music arena all the more remarkable in light of the fact he plans to play it correctly this time. After all, there's plenty at stake...
Like the lives of himself and his wife, Emma (Kerry Bishé) in this Spanish-made, English language thriller that took a lot of stick for its ludicrous premise, especially from those who had actually been to classical concerts and were dead set on picking apart all the implausibilities inherent in the plot. What these critics didn't twig was that it was the sheer absurdity of the entire movie that made it entertaining; it was evidently aspiring to be a suspense work in the Alfred Hitchcock mould, only dressed up with fancy new technology the master would not have had access to in order to enhance the twists and turns of the farfetched narrative. Whether Hitch would have used them at all was a moot point.
You could observe that while the famed director liked what is now termed a high concept, he rarely got absolutely preposterous, or if he did there was a crucial element that was missing here: he convinced us while we were watching that the threat, the premise, was credible. In this case, when Tom finally gets to the stage and is commencing his first tune, he is nervous enough as it is and has no plans to attempt the Impossible Piece, though you're way ahead of him if you think he's going to give it a try eventually, perhaps for the grand finale? What persuades him are notes written in blood red on his sheet music which tell him in no uncertain terms that should Tom hit a bum note tonight, then he will die, and there's one of those laser dots flitting over the keys to prove someone has him in his rifle sights.
Emma might get it in the neck too, so who are we dealing with? Some crazed fan or a man with a grudge, or someone with a motive he has no intention of sharing with Tom? To say more would be to spoil what is a pricelessly foolish notion, but suffice to say it has something to do with the grand piano Tom is playing on (and nothing to do with his surname bizarrely being Selznick - were the producers hoping for a Gone With the Wind-sized success? Nothing wrong with optimism). For a fair stretch of the drama it seems as if the would-be killer is some extreme aesthete, demanding that classical music be performed with the utmost rigour, which would be no less sensible than the actual reason, but how does Tom know what is expected of him?
That's because he's been given an earpiece the baddie (husky-voiced John Cusack) speaks to him through as Tom sits at the instrument, making use of that technology as well as introducing that bane of the thriller writers' lives, the mobile phone. Here author Damien Chazelle uses it to his advantage as our perspiring hero manages to text a couple of Emma's friends (Tamsin Egerton and Allen Leech) to raise the alarm, working out that they are such Philistines they wouldn't have switched their phones off. But this is a false hope, as the villain has all the chances of escape covered, including placing Alex Winter of all people backstage as his strongarm henchman, leaving Tom with no option but to keep hammering away until he must eventually reckon with the trickiest opus known to mankind, or so this would have us believe. Director Eugenio Mira, aware that this could look a bit samey since it was mainly set in one location, offered an abundance of style to dress up the characters' activities, which only serves to render it all the more delirious. Yes, it was stupid, but it was a lot of fun too. Music by Victor Reyes.