True Romance (1993)

True Romance (1993) – Quentin Tarantino is hailed (rightly, in my opinion) as one of the greatest directors working in film today. While nowadays he’ll spend years working on Django Unchained or Inglourious Basterds before actually making it, back in the day he had more scripts than he had time to film himself. Wisely choosing to make Pulp Fiction himself he allowed other film-makers to try out two of his scripts. One was Natural Born Killers. Oliver Stone made a surreal ultraviolent art flick out of it that Tarantino didn’t approve of but has come to be thought of by many as a cult classic. (And it certainly is wildly different than Tarantino’s script, to the point where he only received “Story by” credit for the film.) The other script was True Romance. Tarantino called it the most autobiographical film he ever wrote (which is kind of fucked up). To helm this flick, Tony Scott was hired. Now the director of Top Gun may not seem like quite the auteur to tackle a Tarantino script but fans of Scott’s can tell you he is more than just a director-for-hire. As many have pointed out since his untimely passing earlier this week, he is one of the unsung stylistic heroes of Hollywood. So how did he do with a script by one of the most celebrated writer-directors of the past twenty years?

Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) works in a comic book store and unsuccessfully tries to pick up women by inviting them to a Sonny Chiba kung fu movie triple feature. While at said triple feature he meets Alabama (Patricia Arquette) and the two hit it off famously and have a wonderful evening together. Alabama then tearfully confesses that she is a call girl hired by Clarence’s boss but now she’s really fallen for him and doesn’t know what to do. Clarence is surprisingly okay with this and the two get married. However, knowing that Alabama’s pimp is still out there eats at Clarence. On the advice of his imaginary friend Elvis Presley (Val Kilmer, out of focus and never explicitly named as Presley) he decides to go see Alabama’s scar-faced dreadlocked wigger pimp Drexel (Gary Oldman, terrifying) and kill him. He also inadvertently steals a bunch of cocaine and he and the misses flee to Los Angeles, where Clarence’s actor buddy Dick (Michael Rapaport) tries to help him sell the coke to a big-time movie producer (Saul Rubinek). But the mob wants its coke back…

Christian Slater has had many a mediocre role in his career but this is the one that makes all that okay. He played Clarence and that earns him a lot of leeway. Patricia Arquette makes you fall in love with her. In addition to the above-mentioned actors the movie also features memorable turns by Dennis Hopper (as Clarence’s father), Christopher Walken (as a mob consigliore), James Gandolfini (as a sadistic thug), Bronson Pinchot (as Rubinek’s assistant), Tom Sizemore and the late Chris Penn (as a couple of cops), Brad Pitt (as the biggest stoner ever), and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances by Kevin Corrigan, The Wire’s Paul Ben-Victor, and motherfucking Samuel L. Jackson. The scene between hopper and Walken is touted as one of the best Quentin ever wrote, but enough about Tarantino. Tarantino’s script meant this would always be a damn good movie, but it’s Tony Scott’s direction that makes it a great movie. While he brings his full action movie credentials to the action, he also makes sure that the title fits. This is a love story. It’s a love story with murder and cocaine and mobsters, but a love story nonetheless. Hans Zimmer’s wonderful score helps set that tone. So the question is whether credit for this film belongs to Tarantino or Scott? Pretty sure it’s a great film because of them both. If you haven’t already, check it out. If you have, check it out again and remember one of the great film-makers by watching one of his great films.

R.I.P. Tony Scott, 1944-2012

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