“You’re so cool”. The three words Patricia Arquette’s Alabama has running through her mind during the finale of Tony Scott’s True Romance.
With a script by Quentin Tarantino, a cast that places Brad Pitt in a minor role and a score that seems equally jarring yet perfect, this is a film no one forgets. These early days, when Tarantino simply took his pay check by providing pop-culture savvy scripts to Scott and Oliver Stone, has a comic-book playful tone that even QT fails to create in his productions. True Romance is edgy, fast and a huge amount of fun. With a shotgun in one hand and a perfect punch in the other, it’s thoroughly impressive how sweetly romantic it is too.
Opening in a bar, Clarence Wurly (Christian Slater) sits with a drink and chats about Elvis – his idol and mentor. The lady that sits down table, begins to chat. He tells her he’d like to take her to a film. She seems interested. He tells her it’s a Sonny Chiba triple-bill. Her face drops and her idea of a good night is gone. This pre-titles sequence focuses our attention on that companionship; that lonely pursuit of hoping to meet someone who intimately likes what you like. Someone who thinks we’re cool. Clarence then meets Alabama. Spilling out of her dress and giggling excitedly at her every word, it seems too good to be true. It is, (she’s a call girl) but they both fall deeply in love anyway. His decision to take on her pimp in a cinema-savvy takedown starts the ball rolling as the Bonnie and Clyde duo escape Detroit with a suitcase of cocaine – and bigger gangsters waiting in the shadows, keen to get the coke back.
Cutting away to television screens with a comic-store clerk and an exceptionally violent edge, True Romance is clearly penned by the man behind Reservoir Dogs. But it was an era before audiences knew what was next. The Pulp Fiction pace had yet to be established and both Tony Scott and Olive Stone, clearly aware of how special the scripts to True Romance and Natural Born Killers were, had to think outside the box to sew it all together. The casting alone is a delight. Brad Pitt as the stoned roommate Floyd. Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s troubled, but sincere, father. Christopher Walken on impeccable form, delivering a monologue to perfection. James Gandolfini, single-handedly auditioning and guaranteeing the menacing personality that became Tony Soprano here. Gary Oldman, playing a white-guy pimp/drug-dealer as if he’s obsessed with being black. Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore and Michael Rappaport too – the list goes on. Gandolfini, Hopper and Penn have now passed and yet here they are, very much on their A-game here. Bafflingly, these are the bit parts and minor roles that support the lead roles, depicted by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.
But the two lovers are wonderfully besotted with each other. Alabama, nervously-optimistic, as if the troubled history that led her to the call-girl profession can be tightly kept in a box. Clarence, quietly confident but aware of the importance of his role as husband and protector. They stumble from one plan to another, often being solely responsible for providing the breadcrumbs the gangster’s need to find them (a smart chuckle when explaining how Clarence left his driver’s licence on the body of the deceased). But they are adorable, sweetly clinging and holding each other in the car and en route to California. It’s why we’re so engaged when each lover is hurt. True Romance is the romance for a generation, and an exciting precursor to what was to come soon after from a little-known screenwriter called Quentin…
BFI LOVE runs until 31 December 2015 at BFI Southbank and various venues across the UK. To find your nearest LOVE event visit www.bfi.org.uk/love.
Written originally for Flickering Myth