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TRUE ROMANCE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubenik, James Gandolfini, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore
Director: Tony Scott
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: September 24, 2002

“If there’s one thing this last week has taught me, it’s better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.”

Film ****

To many, True Romance will come across as the most ironic movie title in history. This is without a doubt one of the most gleefully proud-to-be-violent movies ever made, recollecting the days of Sam Peckinpah. But deep down, the movie is indeed a romantic film about two people deeply in love with each other, but the just happen to find themselves in the most extreme circumstances. How utterly fortunate this movie was written by no less than Quentin Tarantino, as well as attracting a massive star packed cast of actors. The result is a razor-sharp new generation Bonnie & Clyde that remains one of the best films of the 1990s. This was the first script that Tarantino ever wrote, so the movie should be honored in that regard as well.

Christian Slater stars in one of his best performances as Clarence, a Detroit comic book store employee and Elvis fan whose life is changed when he meets the beautiful Alabama (Patricia Arquette). They spend a lovely evening, which includes a kung fu movie triple feature, a diner conversation afterward, and they end up sleeping together. They fall in love instantly, even though she confesses to him that she is in fact a call girl and their whole encounter was set up as a birthday present. She still insists that she’s in love with him, and the two are soon married.

Clarence still feels the need to deal with Alabama’s former pimp named Drexel, played explosively by Gary Oldman, YES, Gary Oldman. Drexel is a white guy who thinks he’s black, and let’s just say that Oldman makes the case very convincing. Clarence courageously approaches Drexel in one of the most intense confrontation scenes in movie history. Clarence tells the pimp that his new wife will not be coming back to work for him, and it ends in one of the most stunning outbursts of violence I, for one, have ever experienced. He returns to his wife with what he thinks is her suitcase of her clothes, when it happens to have millions of dollars worth of cocaine. They then plan to hit the road to Hollywood to sell the blow at a discount so that they can fund a nice little honeymoon.

It won’t be as easy as they thought, because it turns out that the cocaine belongs to the mob, as revealed when a mafia enforcer (Christopher Walken) confronts Clarence’s cop father (Dennis Hopper) in a funny and brutal scene. Walken, who has only about five minutes of screen time, steals the movie with his now famous line, “I haven’t killed anyone…since 1984.”

When they arrive in L.A., Clarence looks up old friend Dick Ritchie (Michael Rapaport), who’s now an aspiring actor. Since Dick has certain connections in Tinsletown, Clarence wishes to sell the drugs for a decent price to a movie producer, since it’s known that most big time movie players get the stuff delivered to them on the set. Dick has a link to someone who’s an associate to one of the biggest producers in Hollywood, Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubenik). Clarence is quick to set up the deal, which he ingeniously disguises as the opening of Doctor Zhivago.

I now find that a big pleasure in watching True Romance, after seeing it so many times, is to glance at the supporting players, some of whom were known actors, while many weren’t and have gone on to appear in countless movies. Brad Pitt, who at the time was a rising star, has a brief appearance as Dick’s stoner roommate, Samuel L. Jackson has a few seconds on screen before getting blown away by Oldman’s character, Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore appear late in the movie as two cops, and even James Gandolfini pops up as a mafia hit man, a small role that would perfectly prep him up for his character on a future hit television show. Also in the cast, but seen mostly off-screen, is Val Kilmer, who plays Clarence’s fantasy mentor, appearing as the ghost of Elvis. He pops up whenever Clarence needs advice on how to handle the situation.

A great deal of credit must also go to director Tony Scott, as this remains his cinematic masterpiece, followed closely by Crimson Tide. Scott has a sharp eye and is a director who is known for his distinct visual flair, and True Romance is no exception. While he is mostly experienced with directing films of an adrenaline nature (Top Gun, The Last Boy Scout), Scott’s visual style is terrifically applied to a razor sharp story that captures a true California feel. A sequence set on a roller coaster is by far Scott’s most outstandingly shot sequence to date.

True Romance, like all of Tarantino’s other work, is an originally woven together masterpiece, complete with uncompromising doses of violence, lowlife characters, and an assembly of beautifully written words. Inspired directing, wonderfully gritty performances, and hard-edged at every step of the way, True Romance will forever hold its place on my list of the best films of the last decade.

Video ****

I, like many, was stunned by the previous release in that it was one of few discs from Warner that did not get the anamorphic treatment it deserved. Thankfully, WB has reformatted the movie as intended for the DVD crowd, and the result is a tremendously better looking disc, and one of the best re-issues I’ve ever seen. Where as the first release was non-anamorphic and seem to be frequent with the grains and compressions, this release is completely remedied of those flaws. The picture is thoroughly and consistently sharp and clear, and the colors are perfectly natural.

Audio ****

Absolutely stunning! Once again, a big step up from the original disc, which only included a 2.0 channel track. The brand new 5.1 track gives the movie a much bigger boom, enlightening the action and all around effective feel of the movie. The simple blast of gunfire sounds explosive as ever, as is heard endlessly in the film. Background music is superbly heard, including Hans Zimmer’s wonderfully moody score. An all around top candidate for best re-issued disc of the year, in my opinion.

Features ****

An explosive array of extras that is more than welcome since three of Quentin Tarantino’s other film projects have made it into DVD projects. True Romance is the latest to get the high quality DVD treatment in the extras field.

Disc 1 includes three commentary tracks. One with actors Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, who are engaging and very humorous in their comments, even during the serious moments. This track has a few too many gaps, but is a good listen nonetheless. There is also a track with Tony Scott, and one with Quentin Tarantino, which makes for a much engaging listen. Also featured is a director’s storyboard track.

Disc 2 contains more goodies, including some nice deleted & extended scenes including an alternate ending with optional director commentary, some selective commentary tracks from stars Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, and Michael Rapaport. There’s an interactive behind the scenes documentary, as well as the original 1993 publicity featurette, an animated photo gallery, and trailers and TV spots for the film. Both discs feature nicely done animated menus.

Summary:

True Romance is back and better than ever! It remains a brilliant knockout piece of pulp entertainment from perhaps the best auteur of pulp cinema. A riveting cast and powerful directing help make it one of the best films of the 90s.