True Romance is a 1993 romantic black comedy directed by Tony Scott from a Quentin Tarantino script. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs had been released the previous year and True Romance can be seen as a kind of test run for his upcoming Pulp Fiction.
Not being directed by Tarantino, True Romance has a more commercial feel than the later Pulp Fiction, and according to Tony Scott, this film was shot in sequence, which had an impact on the upbeat ending he added to the original script.
The opening sequence – a comic book guy is unwittingly picked up by a call girl at a martial arts film night, is classic Tarantino. So is the dialogue which has multiple references to the quality of fast food and hamburgers and repeats the phrase ‘something is rotten in Denmark’ in case you missed it the first time around.
Looking back in its place in late twentieth century cinema True Romance is famous, or indeed infamous, for two set pieces.
The much celebrated ‘Sicilian scene’ – a magnificently worked head-to-head between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper which also comes at a pivotal moment after the comic store guy Clarence (played by Christian Slater) and heart of gold hooker Alabama, go on the run with a case full of drugs with Walken’s bad guys on their tail. It can be hard to ignore the underlying, casual racism in the dialogue, but the performances are superb.
The Walken-Hopper face-off is one of the many cameo appearances in this movie that tends to point up some of the unevenness of tone, despite the blue-neon vibrancy and exhilarating dynamism of the overall narrative.
Both Brad Pitt and Gary Oldman each have cameos too. Many will disagree, but I can’t help finding Oldman’s white, dreadlocked pimp highly overrated and not much more than a caricature.
Bright, engaging and inventive, with Tarantino himself as director True Romance could have been a kitsch but unmissable masterpiece.
When directing his own scripts, at least in the early part of his career, Tarantino was able to subvert and find inspiration in the gore of his beloved martial arts movies. In a more commercial director’s hands the brutality and violence here gets out of control, at times going beyond parody into exploitation.
The brutal, graphic and extended attack on Alabama by one of Walken’s thugs, played by James Gandofini, is problematic, even viewed over twenty years later. Gratuitous and unnecessary in its length and gruesome detail, it seems to exist to titillate rather than illuminate. The final shoot-out has its comic moments, but the sustained attack on the leading female character is questionable and poorly judged.
But the move from cold, forbidding Detroit to the gaudy, blue neon tones of the LA is highly stylised and very influential, right down to the details of Clarence and Alabama’s iconic sunglasses. Bright, engaging and inventive, with Tarantino himself as director True Romance could have been a kitsch but unmissable masterpiece.