True Romance (1993)

2018 #150
Tony Scott | 121 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA & France / English & Italian | 18

True Romance

Directed by Tony Scott from Quentin Tarantino’s first screenplay,* True Romance is pretty much everything you’d expect from an early Quentin Tarantino screenplay directed by Tony Scott. It stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as a pair of Bonnie and Clyde-ish lovers, who accidentally steal a load of cocaine from her pimp and end up on the run from the mob.

At first blush, I’d say this feels much more like a Tarantino movie than a Scott one. It’s all there in the dialogue, the subject matter, the characters — it’s everything you’d expect from early QT: verbose, funny, littered with pop culture references, violent. It’s well paced, too; not exactly whip-crack fast, but also never slow or draggy. It is shot more like a Scott flick than a QT one, but only somewhat — it lacks both the slick flashiness we associate with Scott’s early work (Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II) and the grungy hyper-editing of his later stuff (Man on Fire, Domino). That said, some scenes (like one between Arquette and James Gandolfini’s underboss in a motel room, for example) are shot like Tony Scott to the nines, reiterating my opening point.

Other observations: There’s one helluva supporting cast — it’s just littered with famous names in roles that only last a scene or two. (I could list them, but that might spoil the fun.) The sweet plinky-plonky score by Hans Zimmer is so unlike either his normal stuff or this genre of movie, which is no bad thing. On its original release the film was cut by about two minutes to get an R rating, with the original cut eventually released “unrated” on home formats, sometimes labelled the “director’s cut”. All the differences are relatively short trims to do with violence (full details here). The “director’s cut” is the only one that’s ever been released on DVD or Blu-ray anywhere, thus making the distinction between “theatrical” or “director’s cut” pretty much moot at this point… or at any point in the last 20 years, frankly.

Clarence and Alabama go to the movies

It’s got a funny old trailer, too: it’s centred around a bunch of made-up numbers that have no basis in the film (“60 cops, 40 agents, 30 mobsters”), it mostly features the film’s climax, and it doesn’t once mention Quentin Tarantino — I guess “from the writer of Reservoir Dogs” wasn’t considered a selling point just the year after it came out. (Though obviously it was in the UK — just see the poster atop this review.)

Of course, nowadays it’s often regarded as “a Tarantino movie” — the copy I own is part of the Tarantino XX Blu-ray set, for instance. I wonder if that ‘divided authorship’ is why, while the film does have its fans, it’s not widely talked about as much as some of either man’s other work: it’s not wholly a Tony Scott film, but, without QT actually behind the camera, it’s not really a Tarantino one either. Personally, I’m a fan of both men’s work, so of course it was up my alley. I don’t think it’s the best from either of them, but mixing together the distinct styles of two such trend-setting iconoclasts does produce a unique blend.

4 out of 5

True Romance was viewed as part of my Blindspot 2018 project.

* True Romance came out between Reservoir Dogs and Natural Born Killers, but apparently QT wrote this first, then when he failed to get funding for it he wrote NBK, then when he also failed to sell that he wrote Reservoir Dogs. Another version says True Romance and NBK started out as one huge movie, written in Tarantino’s familiar chapter-based non-chronological style, until QT and his friend Roger Avery realised just how long it was and decided to divide it in two. ^

5 thoughts on “True Romance (1993)

  1. Love this movie. Saw it on its original cinema release where it pretty much tanked, if I recall rightly. I might be wrong about that, but I seem to remember it was one of those films that got a second life on home video. Oddly, while its a film I love, I haven’t bought it on Blu-ray, and likely never will, instead hanging on for maybe a 4K edition (if they are still doing them whenever this film gets its next anniversary re-release -2023 maybe?). Zimmer ripped off the Badlands score something terrible (a deliberate homage, I suppose) which gives the film a weird sense of not really having its own identity, instead always harking back to Malick’s classic, but the cast, the dialogue, some of those scenes… possibly my favourite Tarantino film. He should write more movies, and let other directors at them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lord knows what the fate of films like this will be on 4K — the release schedule for the format seems so random (all new release, fair enough, but some of the catalogue stuff they’ve put out is bizarre. I guess it’s stuff that sold inexplicably well on previous formats).

      I wonder if it’s less about someone else directing QT’s screenplay, more about the restraint that introduces. I’ve liked all of his films, but some of the more recent ones are excessively long (especially Hateful Eight) and so any kind of force that would rein that in might be useful.

      Like

  2. Interesting review! I usually cannot stand Tony Scott’s work (I always considered Top Gun stupid and his later films give me headaches!), and unfortunately True Romance is no exception. This movie could have been so much more! For example, the choice of respecting the chronological order of the facts is one of the many ways in which Scott altered the original vision by Tarantino…

    But hey, I know that my opinion on this is not the popular one, this movie is loved by most people, apparently!

    Liked by 1 person

    • As they say, life would be boring if we all liked the same stuff! It would be interesting to read Tarantino’s original screenplay. I can’t imagine what rearranging the chronology would add to the film — the story seems to work well told as-is, to me — but you never know.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It would be indeed! As far as I know Tarantino doesn’t hate the movie, while he said in multiple occasions that he dislikes what Oliver Stone did starting fron his script for Natural Born Killers…

        Liked by 1 person

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