(1993) dir. Tony Scott
When it arose in conversation recently, I decided it was time to revisit True Romance, one of the multi-part ignition of the Quentin Tarantino universe. Of course, True Romance was disdained, I believe, the script he had sold to fund his break-through film, Resevoir Dogs (1992). And this film and Natural Born Killers (1994) were scripts that he had sold and got directed by others. And while Tony Scott and Oliver Stone are not master directors, they aren’t too shabby of people to helm your scripts. Unless you want your vision to be your own…then forget about it.
But I had always remembered True Romance fondly. I liked Patricia Arquette, and I think this might have been the first thing that I had seen her in. The film is almost overpopulated with good name cameos including Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, James Gandolfini, Val Kilmer, Dennis Hopper, and Christopher Walken. And for the most part, it’s a fun run of a crime film, with building chaos that leads to an ultimate “Mexican stand-off”, the Tarantino signiture scene in which everyone is in a room with guns aimed at everyone else.
One thing that particularly struck me this time around was the fantasy of Christian Slater’s character. Slater’s Clarence works in a comic book store, so it makes sense that he’s as geeky and thinks he knows everything. But he comes off as always being one step ahead or at least a half a step ahead of the chaos, ballsy, foul-mouthed, and as much a wiseguy as the real bad-asses in the film. Tarantino was still Clarence-like when he wrote this, famously working in a video store and sucking up the nutrients from all the classics and B-movies and Z-movies that he loved before expelling them in his inimitable style.
Tarantino is, I think, living is a backlash period, in which both his more recent work and his more successful early work are under re-scrutiny. Frankly, I remember liking Resevoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction (1994), and even Natural Born Killers, as well as True Romance. I loathed Four Rooms (1995), especially his segment. You know, one thing that is particularly good about this film is that he’s not in it. And actually, where this film is at its best, is when people aren’t talking in the Tarantino-sounding dialogue, like “I’d fuck Elvis” and referencing/name-dropping Sonny Chiba and Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo.
The best scene in the movie is the one between Hopper and Walken. Walken is the real wiseguy, and in typically genius Walken style, comes in smilingly and menacing Hopper, who is Clarence’s dad, a night watchman, former cop who lives in a trailer on the side of the railroad tracks. How good or bad the dialogue is, heck, I couldn’t even really tell you, but those two guys, encased in a small room on the outskirts of Detroit, really make the whole thing work. And overall, the film is pretty good. James Gandolfini is actually quite good as well in his beat-up/torture sequence with Arquette in a hotel room, smiling, cheerfully brutalizing the beautiful blonde.
All in all, it’s a good yarn, a good 1990’s crime film, with a great cast (largely), and well-developed build-up to carnage that is still pretty gruesome. Bottom line, it pretty much stands up.