What a collaboration! The muscular cinematic brauniness of Tony Scott, matched up with the idiosyncratic voice of Quentin Tarantino. Tony Scott masterfully pumps up Tarantino’s Godard-influenced lovers-turned-criminals road movie into a (pun not intended) breathless action picture full of wit, pathos and that bold Tony Scott panache.
True Romance (1993) dir. Tony Scott
Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walkin, Michael Rapaport, Gary Oldman, Tom Sizemore, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek
By Alan Bacchus
While regarded and moderately successful in its day, True Romance came and went, released at the end of the Summer, but subject to considerably less hype than the comparable films of the year 1993 - The Fugitive, The Firm, In the Line of Fire, A Perfect World. With today’s eyes, arguably True Romance now trumps all of the above in regard and reverance.
Part of this is, of course, the continually ascending career of Quentin Tarantino who remarkably has held his crown of cinematic royalty for almost 20 years. Also, the tragic loss of Tony Scott, whose body of work had received a new kind of retrospective admiration post mortum.
But True Romance resounds mostly because the film bristles with the energy of Tarantino’s fresh cinematic voice and Tony Scott directorial skills at the absolute height of his career.
We can hear all of Tarantino’s early career affectations plugged into this story, a road-movie-caper romance which combines elements, character and situations from Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers – his three early screenplays written very close to one another and influenced by the 60’s New Wave films of Jean-Luc Godard.
Tony Scott famously reworked Tarantino’s script reshaping the non-linear narrative into a straight-ahead commercial picture. The opening scene is pure Tarantino though, an idiosyncratic conversation about Elvis, recited by his underdog hero Clarence Worley. We would see this same kind of loquacious non-sequeter in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds. Here it sets up Clarence as an underachieving dreamer who desires the live fast, die young lifestyle of his hero Elvis Presley but is relegated to working in a lowly comic book store. Seemingly by luck he picks up a girl watching three Sonny Chiba films only to realize his spunky date, Alabama is a call girl hired by his boss. But cupid strikes and Alabama dramatically declares her love, causing Clarence to throw caution in the wind, let the chips fall where they may and get married.
Upon hearing the stories of Alabama’s hardknocks pimp, Drexl, Clarence brings out his inner vigilante and confront the man face-to-face. Gary Oldman’s remarkable performance as the wannabe gangsta thug is the first of a number of iconic cameos which pepper the narrative. Tony Scott pumps up the scene with startling tension above and beyond the rhythmic Tarantino dialogue.
This scene sets off the mosiac-style cast of characters which emerges from the fallout of this encounter. Out of the wordwork comes Christopher Walkin’s character Vincenzo Coccotti, a debt collector for the mob, James Gandolfini as a viscious but thoughtful hitman, Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s earnest father, Bronson Pinchot as a sulky Hollywood exec, Saul Rubinek as a bombastic Joel Silver-influenced Hollywood producer, Brad Pitt as a stoner who unknowing sells out Clarence and his gang and Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn as a pair of enthusiast cops looking for the collar on taking them all down.
Arguably the most colourful characters come from the Hollywood angle, which probably lampoons Tarantino’s experiences as unknown and aspiring screenwriter in the business in the early 90’s. I could imagine Michael Rapaport’s hilarious audition for the new TJ Hooker being plucked directly from Tarantino’s own career.
True Romance might just be his most overtly personal film. We can’t help but see Clarence Worley as the character most like Tarantino, a passionate dreamer with energy to burn and an infectious yearning for adventure.