True Romance (1993) Movie Review: The Tarantino Touch: Violence, Gore, and Humor

Written by Mule

True Romance (1993) directed by Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino has all the hallmarks of a Tarantino movie. It’s heavily meta-referential from the first second when comic book store clerk Clarence (Christian Slater) goes to a Sonny Chiba triple feature on his birthday and meets Alabama (Patricia Arquette) who, unbeknownst to Clarence, is a call girl hired by Clarence’s boss as a birthday present.

Clarence literally sees Elvis (Val Kilmer), who acts as a kind of spirit guide for the hapless hero who promptly decides to take on Alabama’s drug-dealing pimp Drexl, played by a virtually unrecognizable Gary Oldman. Clarence gets into a fight with Drexl, kills him, and grabs a bag he thinks belongs to Alabama, but which turns out to be full of cocaine, and after that things get complicated.

The whole set-up has elements of a Bonnie and Clyde on-the-road adventure, graphic novels, and B-movie action. It’s gleefully violent, rich in macabre humor, and one step firmly removed from any kind of realism, all of which is part of the appeal. True Romance does not quite fulfill the promise made by Reservoir Dogs (1992), but the ember is there, burning brightly.

It has one shining moment of absolute genius, which is when the mob henchman Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) tries to interrogate Clarence’s father Clifford (Dennis Hopper) as to Clarence’s whereabouts. The dialogue is brilliant and the energy between these two veteran wild card actors is so good that it will stay with the viewer long after you have forgotten the rest of this romp.

You can see the Tarantino stamp all over the dialogue, the melodrama, menace and B-movie homage, the guns and drugs, and the sheer joy of telling this breakneck-paced story.

The cast is spectacular for what this actually is. Dennis Hopper, James Ganolfini, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Samuel L. Jackson. No matter how small the roles, it still makes a world of difference. It funny and grisly and energetic, and even though Tarantino did not get to direct this himself, he talks about being happy about how it turned out in the audio commentary of the DVD. Tony Scott doesn’t make the choices I would have expected from Tarantino, but he’s proficient enough as an action director for this to be deceptively mainstream, but it’s the dialogue and the overall feel of the piece that makes it enjoyable to watch.

Cinema Sentries

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