A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Grosse Pointe Blank

June 20, 2010

Grosse Pointe Blank

Slightly different circumstances with the viewing of this movie will probably result in a fairly different feel to my review. Although I did not go to my twentieth high school reunion yesterday I did make an effort to get together with one of my best friends from high school who was in town for the reunion. So today Amanda and I went over to his parent’s house to watch today’s movie. (I offered to post a review from him if he’d like to write one, but he didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the idea.) The result is that I didn’t have my laptop in front of my while viewing the movie today and I’m writing this review after the fact from memory.

Luckily, Grosse Pointe Blank is one of those movies I’ve watched many, many times, so I’m confident I can almost recite the film. As I watched I sort of took some mental notes on things I wanted specifically to talk about (maybe I should have used a notebook like Amanda did to organize my thoughts.) With my memory of the move thus refreshed, I feel I can at least try to do it justice with my review. I do feel some pressure, I will admit, because this movie is so wonderful, unique and brilliant that I fear my random thoughts on it will be insufficient to really address the source. Still – that’s the risk with a daily movie project like this. I only have a limited amount of time to dedicate to each film, and sometimes my thoughts don’t gel as nicely as other times. So I’m just going to dive into my mental notes on the film and see where they take me.

I want to start my review by talking about the movie’s soundtrack. I have noticed, looking back on some of my reviews here, that I tend to highlight the soundtrack or score almost as an afterthought late in my review, and that’s an injustice to many of the movies we’ve watched. In particular with this movie the music sets the tone for the action and places the movie in a particular place in time. As the movie is about a tenth reunion of a class that graduated in 1986 it’s filled with nostalgic eighties tunes. As a child of the seventies and eighties myself I’m the perfect target group for these songs. Much like the nostalgic fifties soundtrack of American Graffiti this movie places itself in time and tugs on those nostalgic heart strings. It’s a movie with not one, but TWO fantastic soundtrack CDs full of songs that pull you back in time to a more care-free moment in your life. If you went to high school in the eighties.

As a whole the film does a very careful balancing act. It’s an action/comedy/romance and dedicates about equal parts to all its components. The music helps in this as well. At several key points in the movie the music takes center stage during action scenes. The dialog and other effects are dialed down and the music ratchets up, lending the action with an otherworldly soulfulness. In a way. I often talk about sound design and music choices, but I don’t talk about sound editing. This movie is a poster-child for how sound editing can alter the feel of a film. (Another thing the movie does often and well is use songs to bridge between scenes, with the start of a song preceding the establishing shot for the next bit. It blends the whole film together into a better whole.)

The movie tells the story of hit man Martin Blank. John Cusack plays him as a sort of burnt out workaholic professional. He has no life outside his job, it seems. And lately he’s begun to loose his passion for killing. It also feels like he might be losing his touch. At a therapy with is psychologist he reveals that he’s still dreaming about his high-school sweetheart. And he’s been invited to his tenth reunion. And his latest mark is in Detroit. So he’s going back to his home town of Grosse Pointe. In a way the reason that Martin has no life is that he’s left his life behind him. He’s been running from it, but now forces are converging to bring him home, and he’s going to have to find a way to reconcile his old life with his new one.

It’s not going to be easy for him. The love of his life, Debi Newberry, resents the way he disappeared and stood her up on prom night, never to be heard from again. There are other killers in town including a rival hit man, two government agents tailing him so they can kill him if he attempts to kill anybody himself, and yet another hit man who has been hired to kill Martin in reparation for his inadvertent killing a prize hunting hound that belonged to one of his clients. His mother is insane, and his father is dead. And add to all of that the angst of meeting and dealing with all his old classmates.

Of course I’m simplifying things in my quick plot summary. Part of the joy of this movie is in following Martin on this journey as he tries to reconnect with the past and discovers how much has changed in the intervening years. It’s artfully put together, revealing things each in their own time and way. Take, for example, one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie, when Martin visits his father’s grave. There’s no dialog at all, just Martin emptying a bottle of scotch on the sport where his father is buried and dispassionately dropping the bottle there. It says so much about him and his father and so simply.

There’s a real honesty to a lot of the performances in the movie as well. I get the impression that much of the dialog is improvised, but I could be wrong. It just feels raw and real and honest. Which is odd for an action movie or comedy. (There’s one odd part of the movie where a large hunk of dialog is repeated. It’s two alternate takes on the same conversation, that acts to sort of reiterate the feelings of the scene – which is about how long it’s been since he’s seen some of the people from his old class.) The script is great as well, full of quotable lines that Amanda and I use all the time.

Another strength of the movie is the amazing cast. John Cusack of course is cool, suave, and still slightly lost and adrift as Martin Black. How does he manage to be simultaneously so likable as a bloodthirsty killer and so lost and vulnerable? Minnie Driver, as Debi, provides a lot of the tenderness and the broken heart of the movie. She so effortlessly portrays the way that Debi pines for Martin while at the same time resenting his betrayal of her that you never question that she really is this person. (I remember being shocked when I first heard her speaking with her real accent – a sure sign that she had completely nailed the accent of her character in the movie.) You have Dan Aykroyd as the nasty rival killer Grocer. It’s a fun juxtaposition seeing Dan playing such a blatantly evil character, given the generally affable roles he’s taken in the past. Then there’s Hank Azaria playing it pretty much straight as one of the government agents out to kill Martin. And by far my favorite role in the movie is Martin’s conflicted therapist Dr. Oatman, played perfectly and hilariously by Alan Arkin.

Furthermore the scenes at the actual tenth reunion itself really capture that awkwardness of spending time with the strangers who used to be people you knew years ago but have lost track of. It’s a combination of the dialog, the performances, the music… just everything. It’s almost painful to watch, it’s so close to the mark. But, really, it’s not painful. The whole movie is a joy. I don’t know if I can express just how much of a joy it is. A great, great movie.

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June 20, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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