I will be upfront about this; Grosse Pointe Blank is my favorite movie. I tend to lump it right with Fight Club and Pulp Fiction and don’t even get me started about my bizzaro world lists and various other ways to keep from establishing something as my out and out favorite movie, but ostensibly, Grosse Pointe Blank is a movie I absolutely adore and put at the top of my list. So how does one evaluate his favorite (and I am saying favorite, not to be confused with the word best) movie? Same as always I guess, write about what I think of it and hope people react positively. Having the film finally debut on Blu-ray is great for sure, but it is certainly not the greatest disc on the market. Read on to learn more about the film and the way this 15th Anniversary Edition lacks anything in the way of ceremony.
The story has a one sentence setup: A hitman goes to his 10year high school reunion. John Cusack stars as Martin Blank, a professional hitman who has become less enamored with his job. After some recent assignments that have not gone as smoothly as he is used to, Martin reluctantly takes a job in Michigan, which happens to coincide with the weekend of his high school reunion. Were Martin to go back to Grosse Pointe, Michigan, he would be forced to confront all of those whom he ditched years ago, including his girlfriend Debbie (Minnie Driver), who was stood up by him on prom night.
Upon arriving in Grosse Pointe, Martin finds that he may be in over his head. Not only is he contending with various friends and family he has not seen in ages, he is somewhat outmatched by Debbie, who he wants to reconnect with, but also must contend with why he left in the first place. Things are further complicated by a number of different parties who all want Martin dead, which includes a rival hitman (Dan Aykroyd), two NSA agents (Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman), and a mercenary who wants revenge. Despite attempts to have a fairly peaceful visit to the place he came from, Martin will be having a killer time trying to get out alive.
It will be almost as difficult for me to explain why I love this movie as it is for Martin to explain why he felt the need to kill people as a profession. The first time I saw it, everything just clicked and nothing has changed since. I am not suggesting that the movie is without its flaws, as it is. I could easily note some of the tonal shifts in the film, as it moves from being somewhat too lighthearted and a little fantastical to being darker and grittier; however, those are also reasons I really like the film. There are some absurd moments of humor that make me smile quite a bit (convenience store shootout), but there is also an incredibly tense fight scene that is choreographed, shot, and edited incredibly well (and it has natural repercussions). This movie is a dark comedy overall, but I like the various ways it approaches the seriousness of its story. Additionally, I can understand the trouble seen with the ending and I have even come up with various ways that I would have loved to have seen in play out, but I still think it is thematically quite strong. So flaws and all, I do accept this movie.
The key component is the very witty script and the sharp performances by the actors involved. This film provides John Cusack with what is a role he can absolutely nail, which makes sense, given that he co-wrote and co-produced the film with his friends Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. DeVincentis, and Steve Pink (they would go on to make High Fidelity together as well; another favorite of mine). Cusack’s performance is the perfect mix of cool, collected, professional, and paranoid. He is neurotic, but slick at the same time. He has all the right moves and quips to say, but does have legitimate worry when his back is turned. He also gets to show off some of his kickboxing skills, which should please any fan of his from Say Anything.
The rest of the cast adds a lot as well. Minnie Driver is a perfect match to Martin Blank, as she does not simply play a spurned, past lover, but a real woman who moved on with her life and has a legitimate character to play. Dan Aykroyd does great work as well, serving as the film’s antagonist who supplies a level of darker humor, which brings forward the more sinister elements at play. Alan Arkin has a small role as Martin’s therapist, who does wonders in the way that Arkin has always been capable of. And lastly, the one-two punch of having Joan Cusack and Jeremy Piven as Martin’s assistant and his best friend from high school, are hilarious throughout, while adding great shades to Martin’s character.
Other aspects I enjoy – the soundtrack of this film is very strong. Managing to add hits from the time that Martin and Co. would have been in high school, but mostly avoiding the obvious picks, in favor of other popular rock, ska, and new wave singles. This all just adds to how the film is constructed to have its balance of fun and comedy with other areas that explore Martin’s psyche and understanding of how those around him have settled into their ‘normal’ lives. I should say that George Armitage’s direction is great in the way it does not turn this film into a sitcom for the most part, instead focusing on the drama of a lot of situations Martin finds himself in, despite how far comedically the scenes are played.
Obviously I love Grosse Pointe Blank. If one has not seen it before, even aside from my ridiculous praise over this small film from 1997, I certainly think it is a very enjoyable film that may not be adored by everyone as much as I adore it, but it is still very likable. The cast is solid. The writing is smart. And the whole thing works at being a comedy with some darker elements and some action thrown in as well. So I hope more people see this movie and for those who saw it long ago, it’s time to give this hitman another shot.
Now comes the underwhelming part. Grosse Pointe Blank may be loved by me and those involved in making it, but basically the studio doesn’t, as the film has not received much in the way of proper treatment, when it comes to this Blu-ray release. It is certainly a step up from the long ago-released DVD, which was not even presented in anamorphic widescreen, but this new 1080p AVC transfer is merely a simple port over to Blu. There is grain and a lot of other noticeable issues here and there, although some moments do look pretty solid. Certain textures and colors actually manage to come off pretty well and, again, after having so many years with a poor DVD release, having the film in HD is a nice breath of fresh air.
Fortunately the Blu-ray is fitted with a pretty decent audio track. Maybe it is just easier to handle this aspect when transferring a film over to Blu, but regardless, Grosse Pointe Blank has the benefit of a sufficient DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that does well to compensate for the heavy use of dialogue and solid soundtrack choices, along with the various bits of gunplay. It is not a perfect mix by any means, but compared to the video quality, I was quite pleased with how the audio track came out.
Not surprisingly, but still unfortunately, there are still no extra features whatsoever for this film. Oh how I would love a commentary track, or deleted scenes, or any sort of retrospective (especially since this is the 15th Anniversary Edition), but not, nothing except a trailer in stunning SD quality.
If you could get past the massive praise I have for the film, you could still perhaps give Grosse Pointe Blank a chance. It is a fun, hitman comedy with a sharp script and a bit of an edge. The Blu-ray is a pretty simple port from the DVD, but at least the film has finally entered the realm of HD. No features still, which is also unfortunate, but the film is still out there for those who enjoy it or any of the actors involved to experience.