Sunday 23 February 2020

True Romance by Quentin Tarantino

In a sense, True Romance is Quentin Tarantino's first movie. 

Yes, it appeared in 1993, a year after Reservoir Dogs, but it was the first script he sold while he was still trying to get a foothold (no fetish gag intended) in the movie industry.

Of course, True Romance is not directed by Tarantino but by Tony Scott. 

Nonetheless I was eager to watch this movie as part of my personal Quentin Tarantino film festival, prompted by an excellent new book about Tarantino.

As a consequence I'm now watching or rewatching all of his work, including more peripheral items like this, which as I say was written by Tarantino while being directed by Tony Scott. 

Scott is often dismissed as being a glitzy and superficial director, and indeed he is said to have given Tarantino's script a fairy tale gloss here...

But in fact True Romance is very impressive in its opening sequences for the grim and gritty reality of its vision of wintry Detroit — we see homeless men standing huddled by a fire of scavenged wood.
Admittedly, there is one major false note, when we are treated to a white-trash-poetry voice-over from Patricia Arquette which is a shameless rip off of Terrence Malick's Badlands.

Indeed, so shameless that it is accompanied by a Hans Zimmer theme that explicitly reference's Malick's use of Carl Orff's music in the earlier film.

But there are other aspects of True Romance that make an immediate impact and linger vividly in the memory — the beauty of the cinematography by Jeffrey Kimball (Tony Scott movies always had virtuosic visuals). And the sheer quality of the cast.

Of course we have Christian Slater and  Arquette as the young lovers at the centre of the story, Clarence and Alabama. 

But rapidly added to the roster are the likes of Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken.

Essentially the story is boy meets girl and fall in love, boy discovers girl is a hooker hired as a birthday present for him, boy goes to shoot girl's pimp (a scarily dreadlocked Oldman), and boy inadvertently ends up with a suitcase full of high grade cocaine...

So Clarence and Alabama high tail it out of Detroit with the suitcase of coke, heading for their destiny in the golden west.

Which in a way is a pity, because sunny Los Angeles won't match up to the gorgeously photographed urban decay of Detroit.

And indeed, the best scene in the movie is in the Detroit section. It features Clarence's dad (Dennis Hopper) fearlessly — and ultimately fatally — facing down the mafia don played by Christopher Walken. (The don wants his coke back.)

This is the most memorable sequence in the movie. Edgy and funny, enlightening, scathing and scary, it is fantastically acted by Hopper and Walken.

And brilliantly written by Tarantino, an early marker of his talent and still a career highlight.

Although the movie never equals this high point in the LA section, it remains at the very least solidly entertaining and effective.

I enjoyed it a great deal as did Tarantino — he regards it as a legitimate part of his filmography.

Unlike Natural Born Killers, which I will be writing about here soon.

(Image credits: Only two posters at Imp Awards, so I was delighted to find the terrific Tyler Stout comic book style one at Slash Film and four more at Alternative Movie Posters, by a highly talented crew: Robert Sammelin, Matt Ryan Tobin, Gabz and Gabinet. In fact, the Robert Sammelin one is so cool that I made it the main image for this post. The Japanese one comes from L'Imagerie Gallery. Oh yes, and the James Rheem Davis slightly Warhol style one with the yellow background is from Inside the Rock Poster.)

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