Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

D: George Armitage
S: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd

Hitman John Cusack attends his 10 year high school reunion during a moment of reflection about his life and career. He faces difficulties not only in trying to explain to his former classmates what he does for a living, but in confronting the prom date he abandoned without a word a decade before (Minnie Driver). A genuine black comedy with non-condescending dialogue and a healthy amount of seriousness mixed in, Grosse Pointe Blank is most certainly an acquired taste. It will not appeal to the Tarantino generation, and though it peppers its running time with action moments which would not look out of place in a John Woo film (Hong Kong action star Benny Urquidez (Meals on Wheels, Dragons Forever) turns up in a small role), it is more sombre and reflective than expected. It is not quite Prizzi's Honor, but its take on the killer with the humanist problem is ironic and self-aware in a way that is funny without being farcical.

Cusack, who co-produced and co-wrote, has found a nice role for his sister Joan as his secretary, but it is Dan Aykroyd who stands out among the supporting cast as a fellow hired gun who is intent on establishing an assassin's union which he wants Cusack to join, or die! Driver is a good mixture of strength and willing weakness as the object of Cusack's desires and the centre of his potential redemption, though unfortunately the film's resolution gives her less of an active role than she perhaps deserves. The ending raises a number of difficulties, not only in the dispatch of a couple of minor characters which seems rather abrupt and perhaps a bit too violent for its own good. It also leaves the viewer with less of a sense of completion than it might, and it has not fully worked through its many interesting ideas and character arcs when it decides to bow out on a final violent melée.

The dialogue is often so elliptical and loaded that it is difficult to pick up all of its inferences on a first viewing. It is refreshingly adult at the same time, and feels no need to repeat itself and dumb down for the sake of popcorn eaters with insufficient concentration levels. It is a tad too contemporary to achieve classic status and might well seem arcane in a decade or so (its soundtrack is already a flashback fest for 80s teens), but it certainly has its points of interest and is well worth viewing if you are prepared for a little more concentration than is usual at the movies these days and have a sense of humour which runs to being able to understand why psychiatrist Alan Arkin feels he has an emotional involvement with client Cusack because he is afraid of him.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.