Despite initial commercial failure, True Romance’s strong performances and savvy script have made it a cult classic. Written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avery before the release of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino once intended to direct the film too but eventually sold the script after losing interest. Tony Scott took over in the director’s chair and threw out Tarantino’s non-linear storyline in favour of a more traditional linear approach but the bulk of Tarantino’s story remained. The film features a central love story which gets tangled up in the worlds of drugs, organised crime and Hollywood before untangling itself in a hail of bullets following a very Tarantino-esque Mexican Standoff.
The movie is famous for its cast which rivals any in cinema history. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette star as the young couple who find love at a triple bill Kung Fu movie night but are joined on screen by a vast array of the great and good of their profession. Names and faces recognisable to all include Michael Rapaport, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Victor Argo and Christopher Walken. I’m struggling to think of any cast which matches the one assembled here and if you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear it.
As with pretty much anything Quentin Tarantino has written, I was a big fan of the script. What I liked though was something which isn’t so prevalent in his latter work. Tarantino always creates great scenes and dialogue which could melt steel but here you can really see the writer’s craft at work. It’s easy to imagine the process behind the writing and if anything it makes him more accessible as a writer. I don’t think the script is as deeply woven as some of his later films. It’s barer, open for all to see but it’s no less interesting. The script is also fairly traditional too. There are inventive characters and situations but it feels more restrained than something like Kill Bill or Django Unchained. The scene which is always picked up on is ‘the Sicilian Scene’. This is a fantastic piece of cinema with great writing and acting but personally I prefer the scene in which James Gandolfini’s Mafioso gets Patricia Arquette’s Alabama alone in the hotel room. His terrifying performance and menace works brilliantly against her coy yet intelligent response to the questioning and beating which she is given. Her refusal to give in or give up not only shows the strength of her character but also how much the money means to the couple as well as highlighting her love of and faith in her lover.
There are wonderful acting performances dotted throughout True Romance and it’s difficult to pick any out but for me three do stand out above the rest. Firstly there is Patricia Arquette who plays with her beauty and accent to create a character that it is easy to judge but will always surprise you. Her almost childlike excitement is also a welcome rest bite from the danger and violence which accompanies the film. I thought that Christopher Walken was excellent in his short scene. His facial expressions when listening to Denis Hopper are extraordinary. Standing out above everyone else though is Gary Oldman. Not only is his performance the best in the film but it’s amongst the best I think I’ve ever seen. He is probably only on screen for about six or seven minutes but is so memorable that I remembered him above all else from my only other viewing of the movie about a decade ago. He is unrecognisable as drug dealing pimp Drexl Spivey and delivers cutting lines behind a convincing accent. To see him in a film like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and then in this, you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t the same man. Although I’ve picked out those three actors, there are several who are excellent and one of the strengths of the film is that it isn’t afraid to feature a great actor for just a few minutes and then maybe kill them off or just have them disappear from the story altogether.
Tony Scott provides a steady hand as director but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to see Tarantino’s version. What Scott does though is put a complex story with lots of characters together very well and despite some quick cutting towards the climax which wasn’t to my liking, I thought he did a fine job. One scene in particular caught my eye and involved the opening of cases and loading of guns. It was a neat little scene though I think praise also has to go to Editor Michael Tronick. I also loved the slowly settling feathers in the final shootout. It was both over the top and beautiful. Hanz Zimmer’s score is based on Carl Orff’s Grassenhaur and the same few notes accompany the film from beginning to end. It’s simple but effective. True Romance is an ultra cool crime thriller with enough stars to fill a cinema for weeks and a script to die for. It’s entertaining, well acted and has a high re-watchability factor. There’s little I can fault with its construction or its presentation and I look forward to watching it again and again.
- Tarantino sold the script for just $10,000. It was part of a much larger screenplay, one half of which went into making Natural Born Killers.
- The film bombed on it's release, making just $12 million from a $13 million budget.
- The film features 21 on screen deaths and 226 uses of the word fuck, fucking or fucked.