Grosse Pointe Blank, by Albert W. Vogt III

They say there is no going home.  I am not on board with this philosophy.  For me, home is a suburb of Chicago, though I include the entire metropolitan area in this construction.  I try to go home as often as possible.  A visit up there means a return to our favorite hot dog stand (in reality, it is a restaurant, but we Chicagoans are sticklers for form), driving past the home in which I grew up, and seeing family and friends.  It is usually a pleasant experience.  Biblically, Jesus did similar things, though he did not receive the kind of welcome I get.  In fact, they wanted to throw Him off a cliff at one point, prompting Him to say that the only place a prophet is without honor is in his home town (Matthew 13:57).  Today’s film is not about a prophet, far from it, but it does feature a homecoming with a roughly parallel reaction, if more violent.  I am talking about Grosse Pointe Blank (1997).

The first clue that Grosse Pointe Blank is more violent comes in the opening scene featuring Martin Blank (John Cusack), a hired assassin.  He is set up in a hotel room with a scoped rifle, waiting for his target on a bike to come in range, and conversing with his assistant, Marcella (Joan Cusack).  Though he is in the middle of a job, she is overjoyed to inform him that he has been invited to attend his ten-year high school reunion in his home town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan.  He initially wants nothing to do with it, but is distracted from thinking about it further when another assassin emerges below and kills the target of the person he had just shot.  This is a person going by the pseudonym the Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), and after the chaos they meet in an abandoned part of the city.  The Grocer has a proposition for Martin: the Grocer is forming a sort of union of contract killers in order to reduce competition.  Martin is invited to join but prefers to continue to be a lone gunman and refuses, much to the Grocer’s ire.  Proceeding their tête-à-tête, Martin is sent to complete another contract, which also does not go to plan.  Feeling like he is out of sorts, he goes to visit his psychiatrist, Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin).  Dr. Oatman knows what Martin does for a living, and is understandably uncomfortable offering therapy to an assassin.  Martin insists on divulging his feelings, and in the process the notion of attending to his reunion resurfaces.  He admits that he is nervous about making an appearance and meeting his ex-girlfriend, Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver), who he abandoned at senior prom to join the army.  Dr. Oatman convinces Martin to go and confront his troubles, and to the therapist’s relief the assassin agrees, promising not to kill anyone.  His first move upon getting to Grosse Pointe is to visit his old house, which has been torn down and turned into a convenience store.  In turn, his mother has developed dementia and is put into a nursing home.  This is not a great start.  Next, he decides surprise Debi at the local radio station at which she is working.  She is definitely surprised, kissing him at first, then forcing him to endure a public humiliation on the airwaves.  Shortly thereafter, Martin encounters Paul Spericki (Jeremy Piven), one of his high school friends.  He, too, is a bit peeved to have not gotten any kind of communication in the past ten years, but they reconcile while he shows off houses in his profession as a real estate agent.  During the course of the day, it also becomes apparent that he is being stalked by another assassin, Felix Poubelle (Benny Urquidez), and rogue agents of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the employ of the Grocer.  At any rate, later that night he walks over to Debi’s house and gets her to agree to go to the reunion with him.  In a sense, it is to make up for him not showing up for prom, and she acquiesces.  Thus, the next day they head to the school to mingle with their former classmates.  This is not a comfortable situation for Martin, made more comedic by the fact that he keeps telling everyone his actual profession and nobody believes him.  As such, he and Debi slip off by themselves to have an intimate moment.  On the way back they are separated, and that is when Felix attacks.  Debi returns just as Martin finishes Felix off, and is horrified.  Hence, it is Paul who ends up helping Martin to dispose of the body, who quickly recovers from his shock of finding out that Martin is being truthful about what he does for a living.  Now, this entire time there has been a contract that Marcella gives him before he leaves for Grosse Pointe.  With his hoped-for rekindling romance with Debi seemingly in shambles, he decides to finally carry out the hit.  It turns out to be Debi’s successful father, Bart Newberry (Mitchell Ryan).  And, of course, who should be one of the other killers after Bart but the Grocer.  Luckily, Martin beats the Grocer and his team to the Newberry residence, and is able to dispatch all of them and protect the Newberrys, including the NSA agents.  His coming to their rescue earns Bart’s approval.  With assurances that he plans on giving up the life of a contract killer, Debi and Martin ride out of town together and the film ends.

Grosse Pointe Blank’s Martin Blank is an interesting character to study from a Catholic perspective.  In trying to justify why he did what he did to Debi ten years ago, he lets on that the reason he suddenly left to join the army is because he came to the realization that he could, in fact, kill a person.  That sounds morbid, and my limited experience with the military suggests that they do not accept people simply because they want to become, essentially, legal murderers.  Still, I suppose you can commend him for finding an outlet for such tendencies, even if the Bible is pretty clear about how you should not kill others.  What redeems Martin is his description of how he came to the decision to give up the life of an assassin.  He mentions being on the other side of the world, coming upon a seaside view, and being overwhelmed by the beauty of what he saw.  At that point, he realized there was more to life than what he was doing.  Though we see him accepting a few more contracts early on, you can tell that he is disillusioned with the lifestyle.  What I appreciate the most is what I would call the God moment of the beautiful scene that he saw.  Of course, this takes an acceptance of God as the Creator of all, including majestic mountains and sparkling scenes.  This is not mentioned in the movie, but is my perspective nonetheless.  At the same time, it is one of the easiest ways to experience God and know that there is something bigger than yourself.  There have been many a conversion experience that have happened as a result of seeing something like what Martin witnesses.  Kudos to him for making the change.

It had been a while since I had seen Grosse Pointe Blank, and I do not recall being all that enamored with it the first time around.  In my second viewing in decades, I cannot say that my opinion has changed much, but if it has at all it is for the better.  As I suggested in the previous paragraph, Martin has a conversion experience that I think is a good thing to acknowledge.  There is some violence and drug use in it, earning its R rating.  It also drags a little.  Otherwise, it is a solid piece of cinema that can be safely watched after the kids are in bed.

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