True Romance

I’ve never really thought of Tony Scott as an actor’s director, but the acting in this picture is consistently astonishing.  Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Bronson Pinchot, Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn, Saul Rubinek, Chris Walken, James Gandolfini, all of them take their roles in sly, unexpected directions, playing their scenes with genuine humor and humanity.

Now that the shock of Tarantino has worn off, it’s possible to look at his writing a little more objectively.  His plots tend toward the unlikely, his characters are not real people.  Tarantino World exists within the framework of “the movies,” he’s not concerned about the real world, he lives, breathes and eats movies, and his scripts reflect that.

His characters tend to sound the same.  Almost without exception, they spout pop-culture trivia and announce who they are and what they stand for.  The audience rarely has to wonder what a character is thinking, because they never shut up about what they’re thinking.  When he directs his own script, this all becomes part of an all-encompassing style.  We enter Tarantino World, we buy that ticket and we get on that ride.  And so far, he has yet to disappoint.

And while Tarantino has entered the pop consciousness as an icon, his movies are still, in essence, art films, cult films, movies about movies.  Even Pulp Fiction I remember seeing and thinking “If Jim Jarmusch made a gangster movie, it would feel like this.”  (Of course,  Jarmusch eventually made a gangster movie, Ghost Dog, which feels nothing like Pulp Fiction.)

Tony Scott does not make Art Films.  He makes Commercial Blockbusters.  And his task here is to take Tarantino’s extremely Tarantino-esque screenplay and somehow turn it into a Commercial Blockbuster.

The fact that True Romance didn’t do well upon initial release is beside the point.  What Scott’s has acheived here is to take the pure, undiluted pop fantasy of Tarantino’s script and, quite apart from “making it commercial,” he’s somehow make it his warmest, most humane film.

Only the feathers seem like a little much for me.

I’ve heard that the original script of True Romance, like most other Tarantino scripts, shuffled time and told the story in a more novelistic way, and that Tony Scott shot the script as written but, in the editing room, made it more linear.  I would give anything (within reason) to see the first cut.
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10 Responses to “True Romance”
  1. thunder24 says:

    Despite all it’s flaws, True Romance remains one of my favorite movies of all time. The superb casting, the abundant humor and the over the top violence make it one of those movies I will sit through time and again.

  2. craigjclark says:

    The published screenplay — which may still be floating around out there — is the one with the fractured storyline. It had also a very different ending in which *SPOILER ALERT* when Clarence goes down in the hotel room, he stays down *END SPOILER*. I don’t know whether that ending was ever shot or if it was changed after test screenings.

    Tarantino’s original script for Natural Born Killers — which was heavily changed by Oliver Stone and his collaborators — was also available at one point if you ever want to play compare and contrast with that.

    • Todd says:

      I own a copy of the Natural Born Killers script. It shows what happens when a director takes Tarantino for granted.

      Now, I like NBK, I think it’s a brave, fascinating, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink experiment on a gigantic budget, something that simply wouldn’t be done today, but I have a major structural problem with it, one I have had since day 1. It’s the ONE YEAR LATER title card, halfway through the movie. I like everything that happens before the card and everything that happens afterward, but the card divides the movie in half and both halves are quite intense and exhausting. Because of this, the second half suffers in comparison to the first, and the movie ends up feeling longer than it is because of the way the narrative suddenly compresses, spending an exhilirating hour on a madcap chase through America and a second hour confined to a prison on a single day.

      Tarantino’s solution, characteristically, was to make the prison sequences the spine of the movie and to jump around in time to show the chase part of the story. His script is about the Robert Downey Jr. character and his tech crew, the story is really all about them, and their decision to interview Mickey and Malory in prison and how that all falls apart. When Oliver Stone made the decision to put the script in chronological order, by necessity he inverted the narrative strategy, and, more importantly, changed the protagonist from the TV interviewer to the serial killers. As a result, events that seem natural in the script (at least in a Tarantino sense) look forced and arch in the movie, and the satire of the picture must be played to Christmas-pantomime levels for the whole thing to be palatable.

      That’s part of the reason for my interest in True Romance, to try to figure out why it works and NBK doesn’t.

      • Todd says:

        Wikipedia has a rundown of the original screenplay, for those interested. Like me.

        • yetra says:

          Sorry for the comment on a long ago post, was looking back at your archives:

          Very curious to get more info on the original screenplay. I’m several of my friends and I have been part of a thing we like to call Film Club, and while I can’t talk much about it, I can say that we have a few movies that we are all forbidden from discussing because we’d either referenced them too often, or various Film Club members were close to being driven toward violence because of extreme disagreements about them. NBK (we can only refer to it by that acronym) was the first added to the list of films that may not be mentioned, for both reasons. (the other two are Armageddon and Starship Troopers).

          Thanks for the pointer to Wikipedia, getting a rundown of the screenplay seems much more dignified than me begging you for a copy of it. Alas, I think my wikipedia fu is weak, as I was looking on the page and couldn’t find anything other than references to the fact that Tarantino wrote it and wasn’t pleased with how it was changed. Do you have a direct url you could point me to?

          On a completely unrelated note, I saw Inland Empire last night, and very much hoping that you’ll see it and post about it. I have very mixed feelings.

  3. leborcham says:

    YOU don’t even mention Patricia Arquette in your comments, so obviously T Scott is ONLY an Actor’s director!

    • Todd says:


      Well, there is a problem with both the leads, in my opinion. They carry the extra burden of “likability,” and have been cast with an eye toward box office. Tarantino would never do such a thing; he would cast total unknowns before he would cast an inappropriate “star.” And while Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater probably give the best performances of their careers, they are, I think, a little hamstrung by the burden of us “caring” about them. The strange effect, however, is that the marginal characters end up being more likable, for being human. Even James Gandolfini, who winces with regret and rolls his eyes with shame when he first hits Patricia Arquette, even Gary Oldman, who takes a very Tarantino-esque “this is who I am” speech and totally makes it his own with the aide of a hanging lamp, even Christopher Walken, who…well, Walken plays more lovable creeps before breakfast than most actors play all their lives, so he has had a lot of practice. With every one of the supporting characters, down to the desk sergeant in Police Headquarters (Ed Lauter, I want to say) I find myself thinking “I want to find out more about that guy.”

      And, well, I suppose it’s not a secret that Tony Scott doesn’t really make Chick movies.

      • leborcham says:

        I’m pretty hard on my heroines — my intense detestation of wimpy Kate Bosworth as spunky Lois Lane already has me hating SUPERMAN LIVES — but I thought Arquette had enough character to make her worth dying for. But yeah, Tony Scott doesn’t make chick flicks, Tarantino doesn’t write good woman characters, and women can never be “characters” in male fantasy films, anyway.

        • craigjclark says:

          I don’t know. The Bride in Kill Bill had a lot going for her — even if she did turn out to be saddled with a ridiculous name at the end.

        • Anonymous says:

          I agree that The Bride is a great character, the sort that can be born out of close collaboration, and will probably stand as the centerpiece of Uma Thurman’s career, Batman and Robin notwithstanding.