After making the second best film of all time that deals with the frustrations surrounding homosexuality in inhospitable environments (I’m referring of course to Top Gun (1986); the top prize goes to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) unless someone chooses to correct me), Tony Scott directed his honed craft of concealing a romantic narrative underneath hyper-violent high-stakes capers in this week’s movie recommendation, True Romance (1993).
Christian Slater plays Clarence Worley, a comic book salesman fluent in the language of cult-pop one liners and nerd irreverence. For his birthday, while attending a Sonny Chiba marathon at the local cinema, Clarence meets a prostitute named Alabama, played by Patricia Arquette. When the two instantaneously fall in love and get hitched the next morning, Clarence resolves to liberate Alabama from her indenture to her pimp Drexl (one of Gary Oldman’s more sinister creations). In doing so, he haplessly makes off with a suitcase that he expects contains Alabama’s effects, but that instead contains rather precious cargo belonging to some powerful associates of Drexl. The rest of the movie follows the couple across the country as they try to dispatch the contents of the suitcase. During their journey they reconnect with an old friend and an estranged father, and they become embroiled with brutal mobsters, enterprising cops, indolent roommates, and some of Hollywood’s most burned-out or talentless wretches.
The story is one of Quentin Tarantino’s first, and his stamp is clearly visible. Among other things, fans of his later work will recognize the self-indulgent fondness for gore, obscure movie references (Sonny Chiba was later cast as the sword-smith Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill), and swipes at the vapidity of Hollywood exec culture. Scott’s ability to harness A-list acting talent is a great foil for Tarantino’s slick script. The cast is so star-studded that they make sense together only in a film as replete with machismo as this: you’ll find cameo appearances by Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Val Kilmer, James Gandolfini, and a slew of other actors all known for their bravado.
Three performances in particular are commonly cited as standouts. As the layabout stoner Floyd, Brad Pitt showed that his repertoire extended far beyond traditional ‘effortlessly good-looking’ roles. However, the mesmerizing scene between Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s father and Christopher Walken as the mob boss with an agenda deserves to go down as one of the great master-classes in how to combine nail-biting tension with uproarious comedy. It’s spellbinding.
The film is uncommonly violent, as is Tarantino’s wont, so you’d have to remember the title to recall that it is intended first and foremost as a romance movie. However, as romance movies go… there’s just a tad too much racism, cocaine, death, and violence against women for this to qualify as a good date film. But hey, maybe it’ll work for you.
This is one of my favorite films of all time. Watch it, revel in yet another bit of 90’s fun, and try – just try, I defy you – not to enjoy yourself.
It’s trivia time again, RBC. When True Romance was released, Tarantino’s name didn’t appear in the credits (his contribution was recognized only later). Name other films that followed a similar pattern. I’ll allow films credited to Alan Smithee, even though that technically refers to a rather different sequence of events.