Monday, July 8, 2013

#1,057. True Romance (1993)

Directed By: Tony Scott

Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper

Tag line: "Not since Bonnie and Clyde have two people been so good at being bad"

Trivia: In the DVD commentary, Quentin Tarantino says that this is the most autobiographical movie he ever wrote

Along with his work behind the camera, Quentin Tarantino is regarded as one of the best screenwriters of the last 20 years. Thus far, both of his Academy Award wins have been for Best Original Screenplay (Pulp Fiction in ’94 and Django Unchained in 2012), and, aside from penning his own films, he scripted Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn and composed the story for Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (though the finished movie differed from his original vision). Yet of all the screenplays Tarantino wrote but didn’t direct, 1994’s True Romance, helmed by Tony Scott, is easily the best.

Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) works at a Detroit comic book store, and on his birthday, he spends the evening (as he does every year) taking in a Kung-Fu triple feature at the local movie house. There, he meets Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) and the two hit it off immediately. Clarence doesn't even mind when he learns that Alabama is a prostitute, and was hired to spend the night with him. Truth is she’s fallen for Clarence just as hard as he fell for her, and in less than 24 hours, the two are married.

Of course, this means Clarence now has to deal with the problem of Alabama’s pimp, a scumbag named Drexl Spivey (Gary Oldman). After talking things over with his ‘mentor’ (the spirit of Elvis Presley, played by Val Kilmer), Clarence decides that Drexl must die. Following a confrontation at Drexl’s place, Clarence shoots the low-life pimp dead, but instead of walking out with a suitcase full of Alabama’s belongings, he's mistakenly given a bag containing a million dollars in uncut cocaine. It seems Drexl also worked as a delivery boy for a very powerful mob figure, but far from worrying about where the drugs came from, Clarence picks up Alabama and, after a brief layover at his father’s (Dennis Hopper), heads to L.A., where he hopes his best friend, struggling actor Dick Ritchie (Michael Rapaport), knows someone who’d be willing to pay top-dollar for the coke.

Unfortunately, things don’t go smoothly for our heroes. For one, Clarence accidentally left his driver’s license back at Drexl’s place, making it easy for the mob to figure out who has their drugs. Before long, a mafioso named Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) pays a visit to Clarence's dad to try and find out where Clarence was headed. Meanwhile, in L.A., Dick arranges a meeting between Clarence and Elliott Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot), an actor who’s tight with Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek), a Hollywood producer who fancies himself a drug dealer. With the mob on one side and this sleazy producer on the other, it isn’t long before Clarence and Alabama are in a whole mess of trouble.

True Romance is a star-studded picture. Aside from the impressive collection of actors listed above, the movie has James Gandolfini as a mob hit man; Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn as a pair of cops; Samuel L. Jackson as the unlucky drug dealer, Big Don; and Brad Pitt as Dick’s stoned-out roommate, Floyd. Yet despite the fact he doesn’t direct or appear in the movie, Quentin Tarantino still manages to steal the show with his excellent screenplay. Along with his usual doses of pop-culture (The three kung-fu flicks that Clarence watches every year on his birthday star Sonny Chiba, a personal favorite of Tarantino’s), True Romance also features plenty of crisp dialogue (one of the best scenes is an exchange between Walken and Hopper, which gives the audience a brief history lesson on why many Sicilians have a darker complexion). And, as you might expect from Tarantino, all roads in the movie eventually lead to Hollywood, where the action-packed grand finale takes place.

Though it differs from many of the films he directed (unlike Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, this one has a linear structure, with events playing out in chronological order), Tarantino’s mark is still evident in just about every scene of True Romance. As clever as it is thrilling, True Romance deserves at least an honorable mention whenever Tarantino’s films are discussed.


Tommy Ross said...

looks great, never even heard of it, many thanks for the reco, just ordered on Amz....thanks!

J. Horton said...

His original screenplay was structured non-linear. It was Tony Scott's idea to make it linear.

Anthony Lee Collins said...

I enjoyed this, but I wasn't bowled over. Not even close to the best of the ones QT has directed himself (IMHO), but that scene with Hopper and Walken is worth the price of admission all by itself.

James Robert Smith said...

This was kind of a fun movie. Decent to watch in spite of its many, many flaws. It was, however, part of Gary Oldman's descent into portraying cartoon characters and hamming it up without benefit of direction. Some people need a guiding hand, and most directors seem to be too afraid of Oldman to demand some moderation from his worst instincts to overdo it.

Unknown said...

A terrific film, and I for one like having someone else directing it - Quentin would have given it his unique POV, but sometimes it's good to see other interpret the material - I posted a story about the motel where they filmed the fight scene - the great Safari Inn in Burbank!