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True Romance


‘…perenially absorbing kinetic character collisions…’

A new year lies ahead, and while there’s plenty coming down the pike (Babylon, A Man Called Otto, Corsage, The Whale, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On), we like to start things with a bang around here, so let’s look back on a classic widely ignored on release thirty years ago; it’s still got less than 60 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes over three decades later. The late, great Tony Scott was something of a cinematic powerhouse as producer and director; a note on his Wikipedia page says that after The Hunger, he stopped reading the vitriolic critical reviews his films inspired and that’s probably a good thing. Of course, most of these critics are long gone now, but Scott’s canon endures; hits like Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State are all better than average blockbusters, but his other works are remarkable in their consistency; Revenge, The Last Boy Scout, Man on Fire or Unstoppable would be highlights in any director’s resume, whether they appeased the public or not.

Scott’s best film was a flop; 1993’s True Romance gave Scott a super-hot script by the then-embryonic Quentin Tarantino, clearly writing on spec, and Scott did it proud by teasing out a relatable and romantic heart amongst the carnage. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are ideal as Clarence and Alabama, young newly-weds who scram from snowy Detroit to sunny LA after he romantically murders her pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman exploring new degrees of mad under all kinds dreadlocks and prosthetics). A Hans Zimmer score, artfully reflecting the similarly themed Badlands, is the ideal accompaniment.

All kinds of talent are shown to their best advantage here, from Bronson Pinochet’s coke-addled flunky to Brad Pitt’s avuncular stoner Floyd, Val Kilmer as the ghost of Elvis and James Gandolfini’s memorable thug. Scott creates the requisite tension, but also creates vibrant, dangerous worlds for his characters to inhabit. And at the centre of the story is one of cinema’s greatest scenes; a confrontation between Clarence’s cop father Clifford (Dennis Hopper) and sly mobster Cocotti (Christopher Walken). Two experienced actors working with some great, non-PC dialogue; Scott gets the best out of both as Cocotti’s threats raise Clifford’s awareness of his predicament and his own imminent mortality.

From the moment Clifford accepts his last cigarette, the dynamics of the scene change and it becomes a meditation on one man’s unlikely defiance in the face of death. Ridley Scott has given interviews regarding the family history of cancer which throw some light on his brother’s suicide; Scott’s elegiac handling of True Romance’s highpoint throws further illumination. Unfairly derided as a man who placed style over content, Tony Scott was always in the deep end while most directors were just splashing in the shallows, and the perenially absorbing kinetic character collisions of True Romance are worth savouring and offer a sobering yet ideal way to start this or any year.


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  1. I’m emerging from my Holiday Slumber to say I love this film (as we’ve discussed before.) I can’t figure out why it hasn’t become more of a cult classic – I watched it quite recently and if November had 31 days, it would’ve been on my list of Thankful films.

    Nice write up; this one is worthy of rediscovery.

  2. I watched True Romance a few years after seeing Quentin Tarantino’s entire filmography for the first time. I wondered then what the movie would’ve been like if Tarantino actually directed it, but Tony Scott does a more than admirable job. Definitely underrated for several reasons.

    • I’m sure QT could have done a great job with this, but there’s not much wrong with Scott’s approach at all. Too easy to lump it in with QT’s movies; it’s a super script, brilliantly presented by Scott.

  3. Gary Oldman in dreadlocks ‘doing’ an accent? I suppose you’ve just got to roll with it. Ridley is talented but Tony I find a bit manic, jump-cuts, manic editing, etc

    • Oh yes, I enjoy all of that excess, and let’s throw in a nightclub scene with three minutes of throbbing techno. The bells and whistles of his style maybe date some of his work, but The Hunger had cast a fresh light over the look of 80’s cinema, and he gets the story told. Excess does split opinion, but yes, I roll with it.

    • It’s a great great movie, but as I was saying, less than 60 critics have entered reviews for this on Rotten Tomatoes; big films have around 500. This doesn’t seem to have broken through to the public yet, it’s only the cognise, it’s only the cognisyetti, it’s only people with good taste like you and me who know it…

      • Well that is unbelievable even though I believe you. As you say, great movie. That scene with Gandalf fighting with Alabama, and the one with Walken and Dennis thingy, scorched on my memory which, as we all know, is a poor thing.

  4. So the director is Ridley Scott’s brother, got cancer and then killed himself.
    I always learn so much from these reviews! You should offer university level courses. Probably make a bundle off gullible newbs….

  5. “Better than average” is probably a good way to characterize Scott’s body of work. This may be his best, but with the credits it was hard to go wrong. I don’t like Slater in anything and he’s the big drag for me here.

    reletable, unlilely

    • Thanks for the typos, it’s early here!

      What about Heathers? Slater works in the right role, but he was overexposed in some lousy vehicles; maybe this is time for another look at Kuffs. As a surrogate for Tarantino himself, he kind of works for me. But I do think that while this was clearly an above-average script from the get-go, Scott really brings out the best of it, and plays it differently from how Tarantino would. Bizarre to think it’s still a wildly underseen film, even with these credits.

      • I hear you on how he’s playing Tarantino, or fantasy-Tarantino here, which is the only way he works. I didn’t think he added anything to Heathers. Is this movie still not well known? I think it has a pretty good-size following.

        • My review is the 60th on rotten tomatoes. In 30 years. That’s not a well recognised film.

          keep meaning to look at Heathers again, but does he not have a bit of a bad boy thing going in that?

          • I think that was the point. I don’t remember that well. I think it was kind of a Pretty Poison thing and Winona turned out to be darker. Or something like that. Was quite a Ryder fan back in the day.

            • I’m similarly a huge fan of Ryder, and will announce a season of reviews of her films as a result of this conversation. Heathers has a witty script, and was way ahead of its time.

              I’m the only person in my country of six million who went to see Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael on the big screen; it screened once here and the projectionist came down and asked me if I was OK. Fact!

              • I don’t think I ever saw Roxy Carmichael. I really thought she got jobbed not winning a supporting Oscar for Age of Innocence. She was the best thing in that movie. Outplayed the heavyweight leads. But Paquin was the cute kid du jour.

                • She was great in Age of Ultron, every inch the grande dame of the Edith Wharton Cinematic Universe.

                  Never bet against Anna Paquin and a piano.

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