Wednesday 8 October 2014

Movie Review: True Romance (1993)

A stylishly violent crime misadventure, True Romance is joyously out of control. The story of a newlywed couple who stumble onto a bag full of cocaine is crazy fun.

In Detroit, Clarence (Christian Slater), a big fan of Elvis, meets Alabama (Patricia Arquette) at a movie theatre. Although she is a call girl sent by Clarence's boss as a birthday gift, Alabama genuinely falls in love with Clarence, and he reciprocates. They get married almost immediately. Clarence is not afraid of violence, and decides to eliminate Alabama's psychotic pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman) to prevent him from re-emerging in Alabama's life. In the bloody confrontation that ensues, Clarence does kill Drexl, and inadvertently also steals a briefcase full of uncut cocaine worth millions.

After a quick visit to his dad Clifford (Dennis Hopper), Clarence and Alabama head to Los Angeles, where they connect with Clarence's buddy Dick (Michael Rapaport). Dick arranges a meeting with fellow actor Elliott Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot), who may be able to arrange for big-shot movie producer Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek) to buy the drugs. But mobster types including Don Vincenzo (Christopher Walken) and enforcer Virgil (James Gandolfini) want their drugs back, and they are hot on the tail of Clarence and Alabama, and don't care who they hurt to get their hands on the merchandise.

Directed by Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino, True Romance was Tarantino's first involvement with a major studio, big budget production. Scott rearranged the story into a linear structure and altered the ending, but otherwise kept Tarantino's vision intact. The result in a madcap, ultra-violent adventure, insanely enjoyable but just lacking the laser sharp edge that would emerge one year later with Pulp Fiction.

After a somewhat stuttering start, once Clarence and Alabama get their hands on the illicit drugs the film takes off on a dizzying, fast-paced trip into a world of unimagined opportunity, bloodshed and larger than life characters. Everything about True Romance is hyper-intense, and the film creates a vortex of wild activity that demands attention. Scott amplifies all the film's elements, from Clarence's oversized Cadillac to the garish colours of the Los Angeles hotel where he holes up, to the stomach-churning rollercoaster ride that serves as a negotiations venue with Elliott. The shoot-outs, villains and attitudes are no less magnified.

Tarantino conjures up two exceptional face-off scenes. In the first Don Vincenzo has Clifford tied up and is demanding to know the whereabouts of Clarence. Instead Clifford launches into a history lesson about the ethnic origins of Sicilians that will do his chances of surviving the ordeal no good at all, but then that's Clifford's point. The second scene features Alabama having to survive the brutal henchman Virgil without giving up the location of the briefcase. Both scenes are playful, savage and ingenious in celebrating sacrifice for a cause.

With a cast that also includes Christopher Penn and Tom Sizemore as police detectives; Brad Pitt as Dick's zoned-out roommate; Samuel L. Jackson as Big Don (a random thug); and Val Kilmer as the spirit of Elvis, True Romance boasts an incredible cast, with committed performers in almost every role. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette make for an engaging and ridiculously cute couple in the middle of the mayhem, while Rapaport, Pinchot and Rubinek form an often hilarious triangle of self-obsessed Hollywood types tilting into dangerous territory.

And of course the film ends with Tarantino's traditional over-the-top showdown, a multi-pronged hotel room battle with plenty of ferocious firepower and precious few survivors. The romance is true, but it's just a spark for what proves to be true pandemonium.

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