Judge Patrick Naugle takes a break from schlocky horror movies to review this serious film by Lawrence Kasdan.
A story of friendship and other natural wonders.
Director Lawrence Kasdan is famous for his '80s staple The Big Chill. In 1992, Kasdan brought us another unflinching look at friendship, love and life in Los Angeles, Grand Canyon. Gathered for the film was a multitude of stars including Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Alfre Woodard, Mary McDonnell and Mary-Louise Parker. A moderate success at the box office, Grand Canyon gave us a look at how one simple deed can create ripples through everyone's lives.
Facts of the Case
Grand Canyon begins with Mack's (Kline) car breaking down in a bad part of town. There he is confronted by some African American muggers. Things look very grim until the tow truck Mack called for drives up, manned by Simon (Glover). Simon confronts the muggers and has a heart to heart with one boy who is carrying a gun. "Do you respect me, or do you respect my gun?" the boy asks. Simon replies, "You don't have that gun, there's no way we're having this conversation." Both Simon and Mack leave unharmed.
While waiting at a gas station Simon and Mack strike up a friendship. Through this meeting, the two men are able to affect each other's lives and the lives around them in profound ways. Mack helps set Simon up with Jane, a friend, on a blind date. Simon has a nephew who is starting to get into gangs. Mack helps him by giving him the name of a friend who owns some nice apartments in a better part of town. Kline's wife finds a baby abandoned in some bushes while jogging, a reminder of her own son, Roberto (Jeremy Sisto), who growing up fast and off to camp for the summer.
And so on and so on. The characters are changed in ways that are both profound and indelible, leaving prints on those who share their dreams, laughter, and lives.
Here is a discussion question to throw around at your next party: How have the people in your life affected you? And as a bonus question, how have you affected other people's lives because of the people who affected yours?
Grand Canyon gives us some unique answers to these questions. It's about people connecting to other people in ways they never thought possible. I love movies like this that have excellent dialogue and are not based on just flashy camera tricks or special effects (though I love those as well). Grand Canyon gives us an affirmation about love and hope in a world filled with heartbreak. The central characters (Mack and Simon) are two men who, in any other situation, would never have met. Mack is a white office worker in a skyscraper doing a basic bigwig job. Simon is an African American tow truck driver. Sadly, these are two people that, unless thrust into the situation, would never be friends. But that seems to be the magic of Grand Canyon. It gives us situations and lets us see the possibilities. Watching the scene where Mack and Simon talk on a gas station curb is a joy. Kline and Glover show great strides as actors, demonstrating that beginning spark that leads to friendship.
The rest of the performances sparkle as well, especially Steve Martin in a role that, at the time, was a great departure for him. Martin plays Davis, an arrogant filmmaker who churns out violence-laden fare. After being shot in the leg during a mugging, his attitude changes and he becomes a better person. Or does he? The movie gives great insight into small details, including about how changing habits can be a rigorous and long process. After experiencing violence head on, Davis finds fault in his old attitude. However, like many people who attempt active change, Davis is caught between his old thought process and his new one.
Kasdan has a deft ear for human conversation. Oddly enough, this is also the man who scripted Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi. Kasdan's script for Grand Canyon is filled with complexity, yet is accessible to modern audiences. Temptation is a key factor in the film. Davis' new attitude is uplifting, but the temptation to go back to his old ways of violent films is always on the periphery of his character. Mack also deals with temptation with feelings for his secretary (Mary Louise-Parker), even though he is (supposedly) in a happy marriage with a son. Kasdan realizes that at the most basic level we all deal with temptation. Certain decisions we make introduce the outcome for the rest of our lives.
The music score by James Newton Howard is a wonderful example of how music can lift a film to higher ranks. His new-ageish rock score (including the likes of Jude Cole on guitar) sets the tone of the film and works to underscore poignant moments and underlying hope. The fanfare that rolls over the end credits is especially impressive.
Grand Canyon is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic and looks excellent. The image is clear with no signs of fading or color muting. Digital artifacting was non-existent and blacks were dark and solid. Slight edge enhancement was spotted, but nothing of major importance. Fox has done a wonderful job of giving us a great widescreen version of Grand Canyon.
Audio is Dolby Digital 4.0 and sounds fairly decent. Dialogue was clear without hiss or distortion. Though a nice 5.1 mix would have been appreciated, the 4.0 mix does the job. Rear speakers were used sparingly; music and effects mixed clearly without drowning out each other.
A featurette on Grand Canyon is included that runs about five minutes long. From the look of it, this was a promo used back in 1992 to advertise the film. A few brief interview segments with the director and actors are included, though this is not the type of thing that gives deep insight into the film. Overall a throwaway. An anamorphic theatrical trailer is also included, as well as trailers for Smilla's Sense of Snow, Paradise Road, Titus, The Ice Storm and Inventing The Abbotts.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's hard to find anything wrong with such a good film. It would have been nice to have a complete Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack to the film, but the 4.0 will do (and since this is a drama that is mainly character driven, the sound is not the most important feature). My only other complaint is a lack of any substantial extras on this disc. Though a five-minute featurette is fun, it's barely enough to make this disc worth picking up for casual fans.
For around 20 dollars Grand Canyon is a wonderful film to add to your collection. Performances, script, and music are all great, and the message one carries away is uplifting and hopeful. Though this disc lacks a perfect audio track and has sub-par extras, Grand Canyon is still a good film to get you thinking when you're in the mood for something deeper than mindless action flicks or gross-out comedies.
Free to go on account of the message Grand Canyon conveys so well.
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