Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

A quirky genre hybrid that melds the best of Pulp Fiction with a romcom’s DNA to form a cult classic



United States of America
Action, Comedy, Drama, Romance
Alan Arkin, Ann Cusack, Barbara Harris
107 min


Before Aftersun's emotionally climactic Under Pressure needle-drop, there was Grosse Pointe Blank’s emotionally climactic Under Pressure needle-drop.

What it's about

In the midst of a quarter-life crisis, an assassin returns to his hometown to attend his high school reunion and make amends with the childhood sweetheart he jilted 10 years ago — all while a rival hitman plots his demise.

The take

Of the many violence-inflected black comedies that Pulp Fiction spawned, Grosse Pointe Blank ranks among the best. Though it’s patently inspired by Tarantino’s magnum opus — John Cusack plays a sardonic, amoral hitman, and the film features bursts of stylized violence and a retro soundtrack — it never feels derivative. The film finds its own identity as a quirky romcom when Cusack’s character, Martin Blank, returns to his hometown for a 10-year high-school reunion on the advice of his terrified therapist (Alan Arkin).

Martin is experiencing professional disillusionment as part of the quarter-life crisis that often takes hold when one realizes it’s been a whole decade since high school. His profession puts a darkly comic spin on that convention, but the film doesn’t treat that element entirely flippantly. Unlike Martin — and so many of the film’s Pulp Fiction-inspired brethren — Grosse Pointe Blank isn’t nihilistic, but quite sincerely romantic. Its hybrid nature and surprising heart come to the fore in Martin’s renewed relationship with the girlfriend he jilted at prom: Debi (Minnie Driver), now a ska-loving radio DJ. Cusack and Driver have sparkling chemistry, which makes the sincerity with which their characters grapple with the possibility of a second chance at happiness all the more absorbing to watch.

What stands out

The killer soundtrack. Joe Strummer of The Clash fame provided Grosse Pointe Blank with its original score and curated a soundtrack that features an assortment of ska, punk, and rock bangers (including, fittingly, a couple of Clash songs). The result is winningly nostalgic, wryly funny, and emotionally earnest where it needs to be — as in the climactic high school reunion scene, where Martin’s emotional epiphany is set to David Bowie and Queen’s Under Pressure.


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