True Romance Review

True Romance - Movie Review


True Romance is a fever dream. Who knew that combining the sensibilities of Quentin Tarantino the writer with those of Tony Scott the director would result in something that most closely resembles a 70s Terrence Malick movie? And what if that movie had one of the strongest, deepest casts of any movie in my lifetime but most of those actors are only on screen for a scene or two? And what if one of those actors was Christopher Walken but he was playing a Sicilian mobster? And what if another actor was Gary Oldman but he was playing a drug dealer who thinks he’s black? And what if another actor was Brad Pitt but he was playing a prototypical Kato Kaelin? And what if another actor was Val Kilmer who plays an entirely unseen and imaginary version of Elvis?

The film has 1,000 disparate parts that come together in a shockingly satisfying way, yet you’ll go through stretches when the film’s brutal violence (especially when it’s by men and against Patricia Arquette) and characters’ explicit racism are too much to handle. I enjoyed most of True Romance immensely even though (or perhaps because) I had to step away from it a few times just to catch my breath. It challenged me, and I have mad respect for that.

The “romance” of the film’s title is between Clarence (Christian Slater), a lonely fan of film and Elvis, and Alabama (Arquette), a call girl of four days who is hired by Clarence’s boss to keep him some company on his birthday. And as the title would suggest, their romance is true! While their introduction is a transaction, the spark between them is undeniable, and after sharing some pie, they get married.

But before they can move on with their lives together, Clarence feels a responsibility to declare Alabama’s independence from her … umm … employer. His name is Drexl (Oldman), and as I mentioned earlier, he’s a drug dealer who thinks he’s black. There’s a wild shoot out and a lamp that swings a lot. Clarence is able to escape, though he’s beaten pretty badly, and on his way out, he grabs a suitcase he thinks contains Alabama’s things. It’s actually full of pure cocaine.

What follows is a many-tentacled pursuit of this weird (but cool!) couple and their case of powder. They visit Clarence’s dad (Dennis Hopper), a Detroit cop and recovering alcoholic. Then the mob (led by Christopher Walken and a very green James Gandolfini) visits Clarence’s dad. Michael Rapaport plays an aspiring actor who’s friends with another, better-known actor (Bronson Pinchot) who’s friends with a powerful Hollywood executive (Saul Rubinek) who really likes cocaine. A pair of very excitable Los Angeles cops (Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn) get their hooks into all of these maniacs and help set up a showdown for the ages.

But all of this only works because Slater and Arquette share a tremendous amount of chemistry between them and you really want to see them make it. Everyone around them seems to feel the same way, even though the spend their time on screen deliberately or inadvertantly making things more difficult for them. Hans Zimmer’s score does some heavy lifting for them. It’s light, dreamy, and a little mournful all at the same time. Tarantino’s screenplay helps, too. It’s packed with so much weird specificity that its world feels more lived-in than those of most other movies.

I’ve enjoyed most of Tony Scott’s movies to date, but this one is transcendent – something that will fit comfortably on my all-time top 100 (or 50?). It’s filled with all the flourishes I loved from movies like Beverly Hills Cop II, Top Gun, and The Last Boy Scout, but it’s also a real breath of fresh air thanks to the actors and screenwriter who’ve opened up this fun but fairly narrow filmography in ways that really intrigue me going forward.

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