Not Forgotten – Grosse Pointe Blank

Grosse Point Blank.  The 1997 comedy based around a professional killer returning home for his 10 year high school reunion.  You’ve seen it, right?

Martin Blank (John Cusack) prepares to shoot someone as part of his latest contract, as his assistant Marcella (Joan Cusack) reads him the invitation to his high school reunion over the phone.  As his hits go awry, rival assassin Grocer (Dan Ackroyd) approaches Blank to join a cartel to standardise terms and conditions for killers.  Blank shuns Grocer and talks through his increasing dissatisfaction with anxiety-ridden therapist Dr Oatman (Alan Arkin), admitting his recurring dream about prom date, Debi (Minnie Driver), who he stood up 10 years before.  All roads point to Grosse Pointe when Martin’s latest job means he returns to his home town.

There is so much that is good about this movie.  It’s genuinely funny, sometimes darkly so, and the dialogue is great. I also love the detail, such as in the scene where Martin stares in disbelief at what was family home now replaced by an Ultimart convenience store, all to the soundtrack of the Guns N’ Roses version of ‘Live and Let Die’, which then cuts to the muzak counterpart playing in the store as Martin enters.  There is so much amazing music on the soundtrack, which features the best of the 80s.  Not all music in the 80s was that good, I know I was there, so whoever picked what’s in this movie did a really good job.

Looking at the cast, there’s not a single weak link.  John Cusack and Minnie Driver are fantastic and have real chemistry as the romantic interest whose high school romance is just not over.  As an aside, is this basically just a weird romantic comedy?  If it weren’t for unfinished business with Debi, would Martin even have considered taking the job that brought him back to Grosse Pointe?  Alan Arkin does his usual scene stealing in the cameo as Martin’s therapist, but in saying this everyone gets great lines and rounded character traits, not the least Joan Cusack as Marcella.  As the super-efficient personal assistant in a very unusual line of work, she gets have a simultaneous telephone conversation where she both screams brutally at a supplier who is late dispatching ammunition on one line and gives a friend a recipe for soup on the other line.  The characterisation is just brilliant.

This is one of the greatest films to hardly ever be talked about, which won no notable awards at the time (scandalous!) and got some lukewarm reviews.  I’ve been researching ‘Greatest Films of the 1990s’ lists and even The Rolling Stone readership poll doesn’t include Grosse Pointe Blank.  I thought their readers would be in the right ballpark to think this was a good movie, but even they miss it out.

Is the film just too obscure to have lasting popularity or cult film status?  Does the fact that you have to have the right cultural references or do your homework to get some of the in jokes devalue it in some way? I have to admit that I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer to why Debi says “Where are all the good men dead, in the heart or in the head?” as part of one of her ramblings as a local radio DJ.  There are many instances where curious film buffs have posted this question on the internet and whilst the suggestion that it’s referring to part of The Merchant of Venice is a recurring reply, I found far more conjecture than explanation.

As a final thought, there are so many life lessons to be taken from Grosse Pointe Blank.  At the very least, almost all of it is quotable and will provide you with the words you need when your own just aren’t enough.  I often get asked what I do for a living and never come up with a suitably interesting answer.  I think I’m just going to take one of Martin’s lines and say “I freaked out,  joined the army, went into business for myself. I’m a professional killer.”  This is so much better, and probably more believable, than saying I’m a Lion Tamer.

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