The film Grand Canyon produced by 20th Century Fox was written by the prolific screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and his wife Meg Kasdan. Kasdan, who wrote such legendary films as Raiders of the Lost Arc, The Empire Strikes Back, and most recently The Force Awakens directed the film set in 1991 Los Angeles. The film itself is a social commentary on the differences between the lives of white and black people in America, the space and distance between them, and the beauty that is found through the friendships in those of opposite race.
Grand Canyon follows six residents of different backgrounds in Los Angeles when fate brings them together after Simon (Danny Glover), an African-American tow truck driver rescues Mack (Kevin Kline), a successful white entertainment lawyer from nearly being murdered by a crew of gangsters when his car breaks down in Inglewood, CA.
Kline and Glover lead an all star cast with supporting roles provided by the exceptional Academy Award-nominated actress Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves, Battlestar Galactica), as well as legendary comedic icon Steve Martin (The Jerk, Father of the Bride), and the beautiful, sexy, and powerful Alfre Woodard (Primal Fear, Luke Cage). Grand Canyon also features Emmy Award Winner Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds) in one of her earliest roles as the young, seductive office assistant and the on-screen debut of Jeremy Sisto (Clueless) as Mack’s son Roberto.
Academy award-winning composer James Newton Howard provides a score that blends the sounds of rock and hip hop to provide a dark and terrifying sound for the uncertainty that black people face in their everyday lives. For white people, Howard offers an ethereal sound provided by a choir complemented by wind instruments and the fast chiming high end keys of a piano. The film was shot on location in Los Angeles by cinematographer Owen Roizman (The Exorcist, The French Connection) using Panavision cameras.
When the film begins, Kasdan introduces us to the differences between Mack and Simon’s worlds simply by showing us a basketball game. First we see black men playing a game on a basketball court in a low income neighborhood before the film cuts to Mack and his client, Davis (Martin) courtside at the Staples center watching the Lakers playing against the Orlando Magic. The cinematography in the opening sequence is consistent throughout the entire film. Kasdan keeps the camera in an observant manner at waist level. It offers a seated-like experience for the audience. Almost as if you are a child observing the story. It’s clear Kasdan wants you to learn from the different worlds being showcased opposite of one another.
Much of the cinematography in Grand Canyon is shot super-wide and close, a style Kasdan most certainly learned from his friend Steven Spielberg. Super-wide close ups elevate the story, giving films a magical quality. While the story in the film itself is a social commentary on the economic disparity between black and white people, the cinematography lends magic to the story that helps the viewer to see the beauty that black and white people can find within friendships through that great disparity.
Grand Canyon attempts to break down the barriers that separate black and white Americans in order to show that we are all humans who can connect with each other on common ground regardless of skin color, background, or financial status. Mack and Simon find a great friendship within each other through danger which leads to Simon being introduced to Jane (Woodard) who turns out to be the love of his life. Mack’s wife Claire (McDonnell), a woman hurtling towards menopause as her only son, Roberto (Sisto) is coming of age, finds an abandoned Hispanic baby girl in the bushes blocks away from her home. The ethnicity of the baby girl is irrelevant as she falls in love with her, proving that love is love no matter what race you are a part of.
Early on in the film, Simon tells Mack a story about the first time he took a trip to the Grand Canyon and how the majestic view of the canyon left him humbled after he realized that our corrupted existence was rather insignificant in the grand scope of the universe. The experience leaves Simon at peace and informs his line of dialogue “The world isn’t supposed to be this way”, when he speaks to the gangster with the gun who has targeted Mack in Inglewood. The gangster responds with “No gun, no respect”. The world has left both successful white and black disenfranchised members of society feeling empty inside, desperate to fill the void with meaning. The film showcases this with Mack’s large suburban home and the gangster who uses his gun to feel power in his life.
Grand Canyon closes with a wide shot taking us away from Mack and Simon with their families together as they observe the distance from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other, taking in the beauty and serenity that is found within. James Newton Howards swells the score up with bombastic horns to represent the power of friendship.