Tony Scott ended his life this week. I have never been a fan, far from it. But I do have respect for his accomplishments and I understand that his films are loved by a certain type of movie fan. It's just not me. Roger Ebert wrote a tribute to him a few days ago, calling him a master. I think that's going too far. When someone dies, all of a sudden they are loved by everyone. Probably because we are all going to die one day too. And I think everybody hopes that people will say nice things about them after they are gone.
Still, I wanted to pay tribute to him somehow. So I decided I'd do it with an honest movie review. I first saw True Romance when it was released on video. I never saw it in the theater. A year later, screenwriter Quentin Tarantino would become a house hold name. Nineteen years later I'm watching it again. All I remember about this movie is not liking it- thinking it was too long, too flashy and hip, and that Tony Scott's jump cuts and editing were exhausting. And what was up with Gary Oldman's hair? So it's time to give this film another shot. Let's see what we find in 2012.
The very first scene in the film has Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) sitting in a bar, flirting with a woman. Quentin Tarantino's writing is instantly recognizable. He borrows ideas from other films, adds in pop culture references and obscure references and puts it all together with snappy dialogue. He's a natural at this, It was evident from the beginning, but he's gotten so much better over the years. Worley is asking this woman to go to a Kung Fu movie with him. She kind of rolls her eyes and politely declines. This entire scene is kind of like watching Travis Bickle at work in Taxi Driver. But Clarence is obviously more evolved because he asks her if she wants to see the movie and tells her up front what it is. And it's just a Kung Fu movie, not a porno.
The movie is narrated by Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette). We meet her when she walks into the movie theater and the life of Clarence. She sort of forces herself on him and invades his space, but he welcomes it because he is longing for some human contact. He gets that with Alabama and a whole lot more. And we get an intense non-stop action movie.
While Tarantino borrows plot points from some films that he loves, director Tony Scott borrows from himself. The first love scene between Clarence and Alabama is lit with dark blue light and looks an awful lot like the love scene in Top Gun (1987). After they make love, Alabama confesses that their meeting in the theater was arranged by a friend of Clarence's. Alabama is actually a call girl, but she thinks she's fallen in love with him. They get married, kill her pimp and end up with a bag full of cocaine that someone is looking for. It's time to get out of town.
True Romance holds up better than I though it would. The cast is pretty amazing. It has everybody from Gary Oldman and Dennis Hopper to Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Walken, plus there are tons of character actors and actresses whose faces you will recognize. The acting is perfect all around. It's the direction that I still mostly have a problem with. The movie is still exhausting and the action sequences which are like the whole second half of the movie- have those quick cuts and crazy editing, it's more confusing and disorienting than entertaining. There's also an awful soundtrack of what sounds like some stock sound from the 80s, it's a xylophone with a kind of calypso feel. It's the same few notes and it repeats over and over throughout the entire movie. Some other songs chosen are songs that are public domain or really cheap, because you hear them in everything. It's distracting and detracts from the movie as a whole. Even Tarantino's fancy dialogue runs out of steam and gets old after a while.
The great thing about a movie like this, is that even though I didn't like it much, you can read my review and still think it sounds great. If it does, by all means go and see this film. But may I make a suggestion? If you are looking for a movie with two lovers on the lamb, you'd be better off seeing Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994) or Terrence Mallick's Badlands (1973). Rest in peace, Tony Scott. You were great at doing what you were trying to do. It wasn't for me, but I admire you for it nonetheless.