True Romance, 1993.
Directed by Tony Scott.
Starring Patricia Arquette, Christian Slater, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini, Tom Sizemore and Michael Rapaport.
An Elvis-loving movie fan and his new wife go on the run when they inadvertently come into the possession of a bag full of drugs.
It comes as no surprise that the announcement of Arrow Video releasing the Tarantino-penned/Tony Scott-directed True Romance was greeted quite enthusiastically by a certain demographic who were old enough to remember how fresh and contemporary this movie felt when it was first released back in 1993, during that sweet spot when Reservoir Dogs had set the template for crime movies for the rest of the decade that followed and Pulp Fiction was looming on the horizon to define the Quentin Tarantino style.
Which means that anybody reading this probably doesn’t need telling what a great movie this is and that you should go out and purchase it immediately. But there will be some who haven’t seen it or perhaps need a little convincing to include it in their Quentin Tarantino marathons because he didn’t direct it and therefore it isn’t a ‘proper’ Tarantino movie. Utter nonsense, quite frankly, as True Romance is every bit a Tarantino (and an uncredited Roger Avary) movie, from the quirky movie nerd-driven dialogue down to the sudden bouts of excessive violence (with a few race-related slurs thrown in for good measure), but this is Tarantino filtered through the lens of Tony Scott, the man who brought us the sun-drenched vistas and sexy sax music of Beverly Hills Cop II and Top Gun as well as the stylish action of Man on Fire and The Last Boy Scout, and Scott is perhaps this movie’s secret weapon.
Or maybe not so secret because his fingerprints are over this movie just as much as its writers are, and the combination of witty dialogue, a simple plot with slightly odd characters and an established filmmaker’s eye for framing and lighting scenes – not to mention the zippy score by Hans Zimmer – works amazingly well to the point where this still feels like a contemporary movie, despite it being nearly thirty years old and featuring the usual Tarantino homages that never stop being cool.
That said, lovers-on-the-run movies have been around for decades and never really go out of favour and True Romance doesn’t really go out of its way to do anything special in its setup as Clarence Worley (Christian Slater), an Elvis Presley die-hard with an obsession about cult movies (sound familiar?), meets Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) at a Sonny Chiba movie triple bill. The two hit it off but Alabama confesses she is a call girl who was set up by Clarence’s boss as a birthday present. However, Clarence doesn’t care and the two fall in love and get married, but when Clarence goes to see Alabama’s pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman) to get back her things and kill the pimp (on the advice of his Elvis spirit guide, played by a distorted Val Kilmer) he picks up the wrong bag and finds himself in possession of a large amount of cocaine, setting the scene for a chase movie featuring mobsters, the cops and gang members all looking for Clarence, Alabama and the drugs.
Yes, not exactly original when it comes down to it but as well as the writing and direction being a winning combination the talent in front of the camera cannot be ignored. Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore all make an impact for the relatively short time they spend onscreen but Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are the shining stars here, especially the latter giving off the air of ‘90s cool and Riot Grrl attitude that would become mainstream during the decade. Of course, the movie contains a few set-piece scenes that no Tarantino-associated movie could do without, and True Romance sets a high bar in a dialogue-heavy scene between Christopher Walken’s Sicilian gangster and Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s father, Clifford. Yes, you can write words down on a page but you need the actors to bring it to life and the two heavyweights go toe-to-toe in a confrontation scene underpinned by Tony Scott’s mastery of where to put the camera and for how long and it is still a joy to watch.
So you already know this is a brilliant movie but seeing as True Romance isn’t an effects-heavy visual feast, is there a need to upgrade to the 4K UHD if you already own it on an older format? Damn right you do because Arrow Video have given the movie a polish worthy of a new Rolls Royce, featuring a colour grading that makes certain images pop from the screen so much it’s almost 3D. Anything red looks fantastic thanks to this upgrade and, thankfully, Christian Slater wears a red Hawaiian shirt for most of his scenes which makes him look more animated than he probably is; in the scene where Clarence drags Alabama from a hotel room after she takes a beating from James Gandolfini’s drug dealer in a brutal set-piece that is pure Tarantino, his shirt and her blood threaten to drag the movie into old Technicolor Hammer territory thanks to the garish claret tint that seems to be everywhere. Elsewhere, neon tubes, car brake lights and Tony Scott’s eye for a colourful sunset look stunning, giving the movie a proper cinematic feel that the dull-in-comparison DVD image just cannot muster.
But as well as a beautiful 4K image there are several audio commentaries to indulge yourself with, featuring Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott, Christian Slater & Patricia Arquette, and critic Tim Lucas, as well as select scene commentaries by Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and Michael Rapaport. There are also new interviews with several crew members, sadly not Quentin Tarantino or any of the actors but they are informative, plus deleted scenes, alternate ending and archive EPK featurettes. House all of that in packaging featuring new and original artwork, Theatrical and Director’s Cuts of the movie, collector’s booklet, poster and lobby cards and this is pretty much the last word on True Romance as far as home entertainment releases go.
True Romance then – a wonderful movie in its own right, looking the best it is ever likely to look and bundled together with some quality extras in exclusive packaging. You don’t need to be sold on this one.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★