Wednesday, June 15, 2016

TRUE ROMANCE (1993) - ***½

Rated R for strong violence and language, and for sexuality and drug use.
Running time: 120 min.
Release date: September 10, 1993

True Romance is a love story at it's deepest moments. It's the story of two people who meet through unconventional means but find something within each other that keeps them moving forward. It's a love story that happens to be peppered with violence that threatens to end things before they really even begin. However, a love story is just putting this film into simpler terms. Under director Tony Scott's kinetic eye, Quentin Tarantino's screenplay adds some juice to the proceedings and gives us a film that delivers on a visceral level.

Clarence (Christian Slater) works in a comic book store. He appears to be a nice guy, as he sits in a bar, talking about his admiration for Elvis. He states that he would have sex with Elvis if he absolutely needed to. He goes to a Sonny Chiba triple bill where Alabama (Patricia Arquette) "accidentally" dumps her popcorn on him. They end up hanging out and watching the movies, then they go grab a bite to eat, they finally end up back at his place for some sex. Later, Alabama tearfully confesses that she is a call girl hired by his comic book store boss to provide Clarence with a good time, as we learn it's his birthday. Clarence is okay with this, and says that he had the time of his life. They profess their love for each other and get married the next day. So this was indeed a whirlwind romance from the start.

Alabama has a pimp named Drexl (Gary Oldman), a scar-faced, dreadlocked sociopath. Given a confidence boost by an apparition that may or may not be Elvis (Val Kilmer), Clarence shows up, declaring his intentions to keep Alabama away from him. Oldman holds nothing back in giving us not just a pimp, but a scumbag of epic proportions, as Drexl continuously bats a swinging lamp in Clarence's direction while sizing him up. Clarence shoots Drexl dead and brings a suitcase thought to be filled with Alabama's clothes, but is actually filled with lots and lots of cocaine. Clarence takes Alabama and they visit his estranged father, Clifford (Dennis Hopper), who is a former cop. They have a few touching moments together and then head off to California to sell the cocaine. The drugs are the property of a mobster named Blue Lou Boyle. The mobster's consigliere, Don Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken), pays  Clifford a visit, asking for the whereabouts of Clarence and the cocaine. The interrogation scene between Walken and Hopper is terrifically acted between the two, and is probably the highlight of the film. Unfortunately for out protagonists, a note left on Clifford's refrigerator leads the bad guys right to their whereabouts.

The movie changes scenery from cold and dreary Michigan to sunny California, where Clarence and Alabama meet up with Clarence's old friend, Dick Richey (Michael Rapaport). Dick is a starving actor, and we get a funny scene with him auditioning for a part in a William Shatner project. Dick knows a guy who knows a guy that might be interested in trading his cocaine for cash. Meanwhile, Coccotti has sent the ruthless Virgil (James Gandolfini) in search of Clarence and the drugs. We get a violent scene between Virgil and Alabama that may make some viewers cringe in it's audacity and misogyny. Eventually, we get the inevitable Mexican standoff scene between cops, gangsters, bodyguards and our heroes. This scene felt a little contrived and unsatisfactory with too much bravado on hand.

Tony Scott kept things moving constantly, with a pacing that felt rushed in parts but certainly not dull. He tells the story with a beginning, middle and end. The middle portion maybe ran a little too long, which is why the ending probably felt rushed. Tarantino's screenplay is rife with his usual clever, snappy dialogue. Colorful language abounds, but so does a little racism and plenty of machismo, at the expense of the Alabama character. Christian Slater's performance here was fine, but there were times when the Clarence character made choices that appeared to go against character. There is no indication at the beginning of the film that Clarence is capable of taking another man's life, or even that he knows what to do with a suitcase full of cocaine. Alabama starts off as your typical movie prostitute with the heart of gold, but then her character sort of disappears in the background with the occasional giggle. However, Slater and Patricia Arquette make us like these characters despite their lack of depth. The cast is filled with professionals from top to bottom. Reading the opening credits, you can't help but be impressed with just how many familiar names are in this movie. Walken was perfectly suited for the role of Coccotti, Hopper gave us a sympathetic father-figure and Oldman, especially, was near unrecognizably scummy as Drexl. 

True Romance provides us with plenty of dialogue and action to enjoy. We get characters that we like, even if they aren't fully developed, and villains that are particularly nasty. Some may balk at the racist banter and violence against women, but if you can look past that, you have a two hour film that breezily entertains.

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