Given that it was the second of his scripts to make it to the big screen, following Reservoir Dogs, it’s understandable that Quentin Tarantino is indelibly linked with True Romance, a film that emerged at the midst of his 90s hype. And his fingerprints are all over it: the snappy dialogue, the wonderfully drawn characters, the sheer feeling of cool about it all, all factors that time has utterly refused to dilute here.
But that overlooks Tony Scott. At the time of True Romance‘s release, Scott was arguably entering his best period to date as a movie director. Already with mega-hits Top Gun and Beverley Hills Cop 2 under his belt, Scott had just come off the brilliant-yet-sorely-underrated The Last Boy Scout when he chose to direct Tarantino’s script, and he’d follow it with the airtight submarine thriller, Crimson Tide (which Tarantino did a bit of very/too obvious script work on too). Granted, he’d eventually break his run with the curiously tepid The Fan, but this was an underrated director at the top of his game.
Scott didn’t mess around too much with Tarantino’s screenplay, save for adjusting the ending, and on the basis of the end product, there’s an argument that he was a better choice to direct the film than QT himself. Aided by a simply brilliant score from Hans Zimmer, the film casts Christian Slater as Clarence Worley, whose opening dialogue sets the tone for the film: live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse.
Worley soon meets Patricia Arquette’s Alabama Whitman (and has Arquette ever been better?), a hooker whom he meets when she spills her popcorn over him in the midst of a kung-fu movie. The two eventually marry, and Clarence vows to go and get her things from her pimp, Drexl. Drexl is played by Gary Oldman, one of the masterful pieces of casting in True Romance, and he’s rarely been better than he his here. Clarence grabs the wrong suitcase, accidentally takes Drexl’s drugs, and then tries to set up a deal with a movie producer to buy them. Naturally enough, things don’t go to plan.
Yet the difference with True Romance is that things don’t go to plan in the company of some quite brilliant characters. These characters then have snappy and interesting things to say, and True Romance emergences as a terrific ensemble piece. You get Brad Pitt’s total stoner, Val Kilmer’s Elvis giving spiritual guidance, and a marvellous meeting of Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper, in one of the many scenes from True Romance that this writer could happily watch on loop. Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini is in there too, incidentally.
The film holds up remarkably well, and Scott’s decision to go with a conventional narrative run, rather than jumping between time, is vindicated here. For me, at least, it’s up there with Pulp Fiction as the best Tarantino work to hit the big screen as, warts and all, this is a lavishly entertaining piece of work, where so many things just seem to click perfectly into place.
The Blu-ray presentation doesn’t do it full justice, though. I thought the picture quality here did the film surprisingly few favours. There’s little denying it’s an upgrade over the transfer on the DVD special edition, but surely when you fork out good money for a high definition upgrade, you deserve more of an actual upgrade than you get here? As it stands, it all seems just a little washed out, and not to the standard I was hoping for. I was much happier with the audio, though, with an active soundstage being put to good work. Zimmer’s music in particular enjoyed extra benefits.
The extras package is a portover from the DVD, with no definition upgrade. Among the commentaries, it’s the one from Tony Scott that I opt for, although you’ll find Tarantino in there too. Both are worth a listen, without doubt. Also, and these are excellent, you can get commentaries from certain actors solely concentrated on their moments in the movie. These are bitesized enough that even if you don’t usually do commentary tracks, there’s little reason not to give them a try.
You also get a healthy collection of deleted scenes, that are far better than your usual fodder, and you can opt to have Scott natter his way through them too. The alternate ending is the one that Tarantino originally wrote and Scott opted not to go with. It’s good to have it on the disc, but I still maintain that Tony Scott made the right choice here.
The disc is then rounded out with a brief making of featurette from the time of the film’s release, a trailer, and a small behind the scenes piece.
Ultimately, True Romance may not have enjoyed the high definition upgrade to quite the level it deserves, but it’s still a terrific film, and one that’s barely dated. The quality of the cast here is sky high, and given excellent material to work with, director Tony Scott and those in front of the camera turn in excellent work. It’s still warmly recommended, and you suspect will endure for some time to come.
The Film:The Disc:
True Romance is available on Blu-ray now.