GRAND PIANO (PG13)
91 minutes / Opens tomorrow / ****
The story: The last time pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) attempted La Cinquette, a so-called "unplayable" piece, he choked because of stage fright. Five years later, the one-time star is back on stage performing before a packed crowd. Turning a page, he finds a threat scrawled on the score: "Play one wrong note and you die."
Talk about performance anxiety.
Tom Selznick already has to deal with the pressure of returning to the stage after an inglorious break and, now, he has to deal with making sure that he gets every note right of La Cinquette (a piece created for the film, but which alludes to Rachmaninoff's technically devilish Piano Concerto No. 3). Or die trying.
It is an intriguingly warped premise and Spanish director Eugenio Mira (Agnosia, 2010) conducts a virtuoso performance with it, one packed with drama and suspense.
Who, exactly, has his sights on Selznick? An obsessive fan taking things one step too far? A nutcase? Or someone with a precise, unknown, agenda?
To make sure that Selznick plays ball, the writer of the note threatens to shoot his wife Emma (Kerry Bishe), an actress who is in the audience.
And then the fun begins in earnest as the fabulously dextrous Wood juggles playing the piano with trying to make a call and sending a message - all the while trying to avoid being seen by the mysterious sniper.
Wood is best known for starring in the hit trilogy The Lord Of The Rings (2001-2003) and his wide-eyed look is put to good use here as fear, anxiety and determination play across his face.
Fittingly, for a thriller about a pianist and a piano, the use of music here is masterly.
From the opening credits in which the camera takes us inside the workings of one specific grand piano to Selznick performing under duress on stage, the score works beautifully in tandem with what is unfolding on screen as it teases, trills and thrills.
Credit here goes to Spanish composer Victor Reyes, whose film credits include the thrillers Red Lights (2012) and Buried (2010).
His work on Grand Piano was named Best Score at the Cinema Writers Circle Awards in Spain this year.
To relieve the tension, there are moments of comic relief.
There are the two worst concertgoers in the world bickering in loud whispers and flashes of black humour as characters get killed.
There is more enjoyment in store when the mastermind is eventually unmasked and the reason for the unusual request is revealed with a final flourish.
Tinkling the ivories has rarely been this much fun at the movies.
This article was published on May 14 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.