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GRAND CANYON

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, Mary McDonnell, Alfre Woodard
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Audio: English Dolby Digital 4.0, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: Featurette, Trailers
Length: 137 Minutes
Release Date: March 13, 2001

Film ****

Once in a while, movies take aim at contemporary life in an uncompromising manner, and it has hardly ever been captured in the honest approach that finds itself in Lawrence Kasdanís brilliant film Grand Canyon. Kasdan isnít new to this kind of big canvas, multi-character movie, as he did a similar piece with The Big Chill in 1983. As that film was confined to a group of friends reuniting for a friendís funeral, Grand Canyon is a portrait of characters that find themselves in emotionally challenging circumstances in the stressful life in modern day Los Angeles.

The filmís opening moments give a perfect illustration of what the central theme is. A middle class accountant named Mack (Kevin Kline) suffers an engine breakdown in a rough neighborhood, and is soon enough approached by a threatening street gang. As one of them attempts to pull out his gun, the tow truck arrives on the scene. The driver of the truck is Simon (Danny Glover), and he not only accomplishes his duty as a tow truck driver, but he also resolves the situation with the gang members, saving Mackís life in the process. A few days later, Mack locates Simon and offers to buy him coffee and breakfast as a sign of thanks for what Simon did for him a few nights previous.

Other characters in the film include a close friend of Mackís named Davis (Steve Martin), who is a producer of violent, carnage-filled B-movies, which changes the day he is mugged and shot in the leg. After leaving the hospital, he refuses to ever be associated with violence in the movies ever again. Claire (Mary McDonnell), Mackís wife, finds an opportunity to begin her life all over again. As her only son in the family is about to leave for college, she discovers an abandoned baby in the bushes one day while jogging in the neighborhood. Mack at first questions the notion, but then comes around to realizing the situation, since Simon gave him a chance at a new life, Claire is doing the same thing for the baby. Mack is also going under stress at his work place, as a female co-worker named Dee (Mary-Louise Parker) is infatuated with him, and the situation is psychologically torturing her by the minute. Another co-worker of Mackís (Alfre Woodard) is set up by Mack to go on a date with Simon, who is divorced.

One of the triumphs of the film is its brave attempt to show characters that break down the social barriers that have been erected between people. It takes a look at the middle class life, as well as a real in depth look at living in the rough neighborhoods of South Central L.A. The city of Los Angeles is perceived as a jungle of a place, and it is one that is truly difficult to get out of, as illustrated when Simonís sisterís house is shot down in a drive by, and she and her kids immediately move to bit safer area, with Simonís help. And the purpose of having Grand Canyon as the movieís title is very important to the filmís significance. Some of the characterís do take a trip to the tour site at the filmís end. As Gloverís character points out, ďWhen you stand on the edge of it, and look out at it, you simply realize what a joke we as people areĒ, and the closing moments really do stress that point. This is a very wonderful film that makes a brave attempt to look in between the lines at the pain of contemporary life with a rare, sharp vision.

Video ****

You simply canít lose with Fox. Considering that this is a ten-year-old movie, I really wasnít expecting much from this transfer, but this is really as sharp and clear as a transfer can get. L.A. has never looked better, as every scene comes through with crisp, digital perfection. Colors are absolutely perfected for the entire viewing. This anamorphically enhanced presentation is a grand looking transfer from one of the top DVD makers out there.

Audio ***

A very decent audio mix for a movie made up primarily of dialogue. Fox has offered up a rare 4.0 Digital track, in addition to the usual 2.0 surround audio tracks. Dialogue and the filmís wonderful and unique musical score by James Newton Howard are delivered very well in this presentation.

Features **

A somewhat surprising departure from Foxís usual brilliant use of extras. This time around, we are offered a brief featurette, and a trailer for this movie, as well as five other Fox titles; The Ice Storm, Inventing the Abbotts, Paradise Road, Smillaís Sense of Snow, and Titus.

Summary:

Grand Canyon is a wonderful look at life and people in the big city. Fans of such films as Playing By Heart and Magnolia will definitely want to check this piece out, as it is much in the same quality.