You know what is quite a nice experience? Revisiting a film you haven’t seen for a long time. I don’t mean a long time as in a couple of years, or even a decade. I mean long enough to not be entirely sure that the film was a good as you remember it being. Quite often this doesn’t pay off as anyone who I’ve forced to watch the Garbage Pail Kids Movie will testify. But sometimes it really pays off, as it did a number of years back when I re-watched Robocop for the first time since I was a kid. Nostalgia is a fickle bitch. Last night I watched a film I haven’t seen since it was released on VHS here in the UK which has to be around 18 years now. Lets see how well that film, True Romance, holds up.
So I realise that some may not consider True Romance to be a Tarantino film. Sure, it wasn’t directed by him. That honour goes to the late Tony Scott. But to watch this film and claim it isn’t a Tarantino film would be like claiming that Mikado isn’t just Pocky in a different box. When you watch True Romance you feel the dialogue and the tone of a Tarantino movie flowing through every inch of it. Christian Slater’s Clarence discusses movies in every other scene. There’s extreme levels of violence. There’s show stealing cameos. There’s thick layers of dark ironic humour worked into the most violent sequences. The only element of True Romance that’s very un-Tarantino is it’s structure. True Romance is linear as opposed to his usual non-linear episodic style of storytelling. If anything this is a very un-Tony Scott film. It’s shot like one of his films but there’s a lot less beach volleyball.
The storyline is about the apparent chance encounter between a guy and a girl who instantly fall in love whilst watching Sonny Chiba films. Turns out though that the girl, Alabama (Patricia Arquette), is a call girl hired by Clarence’s boss to show him a good time on his birthday. Before long they’re getting married and Clarence decides, with the help of his mentor Elvis Presley (Val Kilmer), that the only chance they have to be free from any trouble is if he kills her pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman). So Clarence does exactly that and in the process accidentally walks away with a suitcase filled with enough cocaine to keep Doctor Rockso busy for at least an hour. Naturally this leads to the owners of said cocaine wanting it back. Clarence and Alabama head to LA to offload the drugs and along the way manage to set into action a series of events that will very rapidly make their simple little plan get a little out of hand.
One thing that will strike you with True Romance is just how amazing it’s cast is. It’s one of those casts that back in 1993 you’d probably notice the heavyweights such as Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper and be impressed that they were willing to have such small roles in the film. Slater was a huge star as True Romance was hitting theatres so he really was the draw. Now though you’ll watch the film and you’ll spot Samuel L Jackson making an appearance in a single scene. Gary Oldman playing a wannabe Rastafarian drug dealer. Chris Penn as a LA cop. Brad Pitt as a stoner. James Gandolfini as one of the Mafia heavies. All in supporting roles, many only getting a handful of scenes. Christopher Walken is in one scene. It is easily one of the film’s most memorable moments where he interrogates Clarence’s father (played by Dennis Hopper). James Gandolfini gets to beat up Patricia Arquette in one very violent scene. He may punch and beat her repeatedly but she more than gets her own back. Even the actors who make less impact are faces you’ll likely recognise now. Conchata Ferrell, Michael Rapaport and Saul Rubinek all have small roles to fill. Well Rapaport has a larger role but he sucks, as always. Although that’s fitting because he plays a bad actor.
True Romance was released just as Grunge was becoming the de facto music of a jilted generation. Yes I realise that’s a Prodigy album. The film itself mirrors the Grunge aesthetic that was beginning to come through to the mainstream. The film is dirty, dark, rough and ballsy and is everything a film of the early 90s needed to be to survive. The film’s violence often pokes fun at the waste of life that often goes on amongst the criminal world. The entire film gradually builds towards a shoot out which is unnecessary to the point of extreme irony. Everyone who dies in that sequence dies needlessly because of how wrapped up everyone is with being the guy with the biggest gun. Tarantino loves his films to end with a stand off and loves to show his own personal view of how horrible violence really is by showing it at it’s most graphic and needless. The gun fight completes the film’s arc, it was the only way this story could have ended, but in doing so it’s like Tarantino and Tony Scott are asking you if this was really what you wanted. Scott doesn’t even use his usual action flair for this fight. It’s messy and loud and that’s all he needed to show.
True Romance is a film that stands the test of time. It’s a film that fits in with Tarantino’s other works but also acts as a sort of time stamp to a point in the 90s where excess had been done and the idea of being able to do what you want and get away with it no longer applied. Possibly Tony Scott’s finest film, True Romance is an example of how ballsy films should be. Many films today are a little scared to really be about anything human or to have an idea and follow it through to the end no matter how nasty it gets. Some directors have the guts to take things as far as they can so their films can have maximum impact, James Gunn springs to mind. But most directors these days just wuss out in favour of satisfying the studio’s desire to get the film to as wide an audience as possible. True Romance could not exist in this age of every star studded film being a PG-13/12 cert. I’m glad it does exist though because, even after 19 years, it is still one damn good movie. No nostalgia glasses needed for this one.