|Director: Tony Scott
|Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
|Stars: Christian Slater (Clarence Worley), Patricia Arquette (Alabama Whitman), Dennis Hopper (Clifford Worley), Val Kilmer (Mentor), Gary Oldman (Drexl Spivey), Brad Pitt (Floyd), Christopher Walken (Vincenzo Coccotti), Bronson Pinchot (Elliot Blitzer), Samuel L. Jackson (Big Don), Michael Rapaport (Dick Ritchie), Saul Rubinek (Lee Donowitz), James Gandolfini (Virgil)
|MPAA Rating: R
|Year of Release: 1993
Tony Scott’s True Romance, which he directed from an early script by Quentin Tarantino, is a movie made by trash-movie aficionados for trash-movie aficionados. And I use the term “trash-movie” not as a pejorative, but rather as a term of affection that those who appreciate such works will immediately recognize and appreciate. As Pauline Kael wrote in her seminal essay “Trash, Art, and the Movies,” “Trash doesn’t belong to the academic tradition, and that’s part of the fun of trash—that you know (or should know) that you don’t have to take it seriously, that it was never meant to be anymore than frivolous and trifling and entertaining.” And I can think of no better description of True Romance and its pleasures.
Tarantino, despite his shelf-full of Oscars, has always been a lover of cinematic detritus who has built his now multi-decade career on reimagining American B-movies, genre films, cult favorites, and obscure foreign oddities as a new kind of meta-art. Scott, never a filmmaker of particularly great depth, is his stylistic compadre, amping up an already crazed script with sensual light and shadow and the kind of bam-slam editing that would eventually spin out of control in his later films. But here you can still sense his command of the material, although at times it seems to be just on the verge of getting away from him, making the whole film feel like a speeding car careening perilously along a cliff’s edge. Part of the fun is wondering if and when it will go over.
And it never quite does, though it comes awfully, awfully close. Guided by the intensity of its cinematic forebearers, most of which are name-checked at some point or other—the Sonny Chiba Street Fighter trilogy (1974), Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1977)—True Romance aims to be the very antithesis of what its protagonist not-so-subtly calls “safe, geriatric, coffee table dog shit.” That protagonist is one Clarence Worley (Christian Slater), who many have rightly noted is an obvious on-screen surrogate for Tarantino himself (who has admitted as much, although he concedes that the character was made way cooler than he intended). A perennial outsider who works in a Detroit comic-book store and sees kung-fu triple features alone on his birthday, Clarence is a hipster nerd who turns out to have nerves of steel. Where did these nerves come from? From the necessity of the script, of course, which requires him to turn his fervent, pop-culture-infused dialogue into unflinching, resolute action. In another movie this would be a cheap, unearned cop-out, an unmotivated character turn that makes no sense; but, because True Romance is such an obvious, unapologetic amalgam of cinematic conventions, cliches, and plot devices, you won’t bat an eye (if you’re on its wavelength, of course). It also helps that the character is played by Christian Slater, who had already parlayed his young Jack Nicholson-esque vibe into a host of rebel-outsider-maybe psychopath characters (see Heathers, Pump Up the Volume).
Clarence’s lonely life is forever altered with the arrival of Alabama (Patricia Arquette), who at first appears to be just a sweet, but clumsy blonde in tight clothes who spills her popcorn on him at the movie theater, but turns out to be a new-to-the-game call girl hired by Clarence’s boss to show him a good time. But, as the title suggests, there is not just love in the air, but genuine romance, which explodes over a single night (with Scott aping his own blue-back-lit eroticism from Top Gun) and finds them married with matching tattoos the next morning. And that’s not the only thing that explodes. The plot takes a turn when Clarence decides to pack a gun and visit Alabama’s pimp, a brutal, dreadlocked drug dealer named Drexl (Gary Oldman). When all is said and done, lots of blood has been spilt and Clarence is in possession of a suitcase full of half-a-million-dollars worth of uncut cocaine (“Uh, these are not my clothes,” Alabama says when he opens the suitcase).
So, what is a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde to do but head west to California, where Clarence reconnects with an old buddy, an aspiring and utterly untalented actor named Dick Ritchie (Michael Rapaport), who he hopes will help him unload the whole shebang for a couple hundred thousand dollars, which he and Alabama will then use to ride off into the sunset. Dick hooks them up with Elliot Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot), the uptight assistant to a comically smarmy Hollywood producer named Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek), who might just be in the market for two years’ worth of nose candy. Since one of Tarantino’s narrative specialties involves good plans going off the rails (see his 1992 writing-directing debut Reservoir Dogs), it is no surprise that things don’t work out exactly as Clarence plans, especially once members of the Italian Mafia show up (it was their cocaine he stole) and the police get involved. Never ones to shy away from excess, Tarantino and Scott give us a three-way standoff in a posh hotel room with more firepower than a small army, which erupts into a gloriously deranged John Woo homage. For appreciators of the balletic and the bloody, it is enough to make you stand up and cheer.
Along the way True Romance supplies us with a rogue’s gallery of oddball side characters, including Brad Pitt as Dick’s perpetually stoned, TV-glued roommate, Christopher Walken as a brutal Sicilian enforcer, and Val Kilmer as the ghost of Elvis Presley in a gold jacket, who shows up in a few scenes to offer Clarence (who worships the King) advice and support. To give you some sense of how gleefully deranged the film is, Dennis Hopper plays the role of Clarence’s sober and sober-minded father, a former police officer-turned-security guard who helps Clarence and then tries to cover for him when Walken’s enforcer shows up. The back-and-forth interrogation between Walken and Hopper is one of the film’s high points, partially because it works so well as simple dialogue-driven drama in a film otherwise bursting with visual excess. It is also a great scene of subtle performance, as Hopper’s character signs his own death warrant by providing an unexpected history lesson in race mixing that he knows will enflame Walken’s already “vendetta kind of mood.” He knows his own demise is the only way he can protect Clarence’s whereabouts, so we recognize in hindsight that it was a great act of sacrifice—a failed father’s belated redemption.
Otherwise, True Romance is not a film of much dramatic or character depth, and nor should it be. It is at heart a bloody cartoon of absurd characters living in an exaggerated movie world of gangsters and Hollywood honchos. Scott, always ready and willing to push the envelope, gives us some scenes of extraordinary violence, particularly the protracted beating that Alabama takes at the hands of James Gandolfini’s Mafia soldier in a gaudy motel room. The violence is both visceral and unsettling, which Scott uses to keep us on edge. Just when we think the comedy is taking over, he throws us for a loop with something potentially disturbing, then ramps right back into candyland. But, that is the kind of movie True Romance is—wildly improbable and delightfully unpredictable, even when charging through some very familiar territory.
|True Romance Limited Edition 4K UHD
|English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surroundEnglish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround
|Audio commentary by director Tony ScottAudio commentary by writer Quentin TarantinoAudio commentary by stars Christian Slater and Patricia ArquetteAudio commentary by critic Tim LucasSelect scene commentaries by stars Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and Michael RapaportBrand new select scene commentaries by stars Bronson Pinchot and Saul RubinekNew interview with costume designer Susan BeckerNew interview with co-editor Michael TronickNew interview with co-composers Mark Mancina and John Van TongerenNew interview with Larry Taylor, author of Tony Scott: A Filmmaker on FireDeleted scenes with optional commentary by Tony ScottAlternate ending with optional commentaries by Tony Scott and Quentin TarantinoElectronic press kit featurettes, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Tony Scott, Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper and Gary OldmanTrailers and TV spotsImage galleries60-page perfect-bound collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kim Morgan and Nicholas Clement, a 2008 Maxim oral history featuring interviews with cast and crew, and Edgar Wright’s 2012 eulogy for Tony ScottDouble-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara DeckSix double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions
|June 28, 2022
|Arrow Video’s 4K UHD Limited Edition release of True Romance includes both the original theatrical cut and the unrated director’s cut, which are available on the same disc via seamless branching. Both films are presented in an incredible 2160p transfer with Dolby Vision HDR. According to the liner notes, the transfer came from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative and 35mm intermediary elements, which were restored and graded in 4K HDR/Dolby Vision. Director Tony Scott and regular cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball (who previously shot Scott’s Top Gun, Revenge, and Beverly Hills Cop II) deliver intense imagery, which ranges from the steely grays and blues of wintry Detroit, to the cascading sunshine of southern California, to numerous dark, shadowy interiors. Some of the scenes are incredibly sharp, while others have a slightly soft, hazier feel (the result of lots of cigarette smoke). All is beautifully rendered with strong colors, excellent detail, and deep blacks that maintains a slightly gritty, celluloid feel. The disc offers the option of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel mix and a 2.0-channel mix, both of which are excellent. The 5.1 mix is the stronger of the two, with better and more precise separations and a more immersive soundscape.
As usual, Arrow has absolutely stacked the supplements, drawing in most of the material from previous Blu-ray editions and then adding in quite a bit of new material, as well. From previous editions we get a veritable cavalcade of audio commentaries, enough to take up pretty much your whole weekend if you wanted to listen through them all: one with director Tony Scott, one with writer Quentin Tarantino, one with stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, and one with film critic Tim Lucas (the first three date back to the 2002 Special Edition DVD, while Lucas’s commentary was recorded for this release, meaning that it focuses on appreciating the film from the hindsight of three decades). There are also two select scene commentaries: one by stars Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, and Michael Rapaport from the 2002 DVD and a new one by stars Bronson Pinchot and Saul Rubinek. So, all in all, this means that virtually every major face you see on screen gets their say on one of these tracks. Also from the earlier editions we have 11 deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by Tony Scott (altogether they run about half an hour) and an alternate ending (in which Clarence dies!) with optional commentaries by Scott and Tarantino. There is an extensive electronic press kit section that includes two featurettes for the U.S. market (6 min. each); an international featurette (8 min.); a behind-the-scenes featurette (15 min.); and interviews with Tony Scott (4 min.), Christian Slater (2 min.), Patricia Arquette (2 min.), Dennis Hopper (2 min.), and Gary Oldman (3 min.). Also included is a U.S. and an international theatrical trailer and two TV spots, a production stills gallery with about 70 images and a poster and video art gallery with about 20 images. And now … on to the new stuff, which consists of all-new video interviews with some of the film’s most significant contributors—costume designer Susan Becker (10 min.), co-editor Michael Tronick (11 min.), and composers Mark Mancina and John Van Tongeren (12 min.)—and one with Larry Taylor (author of Tony Scott: A Filmmaker on Fire) (8 min.). This Limited Edition also includes a 60-page perfect-bound collectors’ booklet with new writing on the film by film critics Kim Morgan and Nicholas Clement, a 2008 Maxim oral history featuring interviews with cast and crew, and Edgar Wright’s 2012 eulogy for Tony Scott; a double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck; and six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions.
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