True Romance (1993) *** Burke Favorite
Dir: Tony Scott
Stars: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer,
Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Bronson Pinchot – really!
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re going to chat about a very romantic movie indeed – just be forewarned, this film is ultra-violent… However, if you can stomach some of the more gruesome scenes, I think you’ll agree this film deserves the classic status it has earned in the last few years. This action-adventure boasts a shocking cast – both from a character perspective and the “names” involved. I mean, how much would it cost to get all these folks in a picture today? Anyhow, True Romance also has the infinite elements of film firing on all cylinders: breakneck photography, a terrific soundtrack and a thrilling story, all contribute to the film’s success.
The opening scene establishes that Clarence Worthy is quite a character: before the credits start rolling over seedy, yet romantic shots of Detroit, we know Clarence LOVES Elvis, kung fu movies and is quite lonely. He even propositions a working girl to go see not one, not two but three kung fu movies with him! Clarence is disappointed when the prostitute tells him that “it’s not my cup of tea.” But, little does he know that his generous boss at the comic book shop already has a call girl named Alabama headed his way. She dumps a huge bin of popcorn all over Clarence in the middle of one of Sonny Chiba’s classic films. He catches her up on the story, they flirt and end up having pie – and much more – together.
Act one concerns Clarence and Alabama falling in love: their romance is fun to watch because they have believable chemistry. You want these two “dumb kids” to make it. But, if they lived happily ever after in the first twenty minutes, it’d be a pretty weak movie, right? Trouble brews when Alabama tells Clarence about her former pimp, Drexel. We’ve met Drexel in an early act one scene in which he shoots a couple of guys dead in a filthy motel room and takes what looks like about 400 pounds of coke from them. Well, Clarence insists on heading over to Drexel’s to “pick up her things”. He walks in and meets this dreadlocked (played by an almost unrecognizable Gary Oldman) maniac who wants to negotiate over some Chinese take out. Let me be clear, this is a scary scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film. But for clarity’s sake, I’ll tell you that Clarence leaves with Drexel’s suit case full of cocaine.
And here we arrive at a terribly romantic scene. Clarence, all bloody and beaten to a pulp from his meeting with Drexel, returns to the apartment carrying what he thinks is Alabama’s suit case in one hand and a bunch of cheeseburgers in the other, saying simply “I killed him.” Alabama, needless to say, is pretty upset. Clarence misinterprets her mood and starts yelling and screaming at her, demanding to know if she loved Drexel? Instead, she keeps saying, “I think…” over and over again until he finally lets her finish with – “I think what you did was… so romantic.” This line of dialogue is one of my favorites in all the films I’ve seen because of its honesty between the two characters. They’re not the sharpest tools in the shed, but they’re resourceful and they believe in each other – and they’re in love – so dammit, we want them to make it! When was the last time you felt that strongly about two characters in a film?
Moving on. They hug and kiss for a bit and then they open that suit case full of cocaine. Alabama says, “These… aren’t my clothes.” After a couple of scenes with Clarence and his Dad – not to mention a local Detroit gangster played by none other than Christopher Walken – it’s off to California we go. There, Clarence knows an old pal who’s in the acting game named Dick Ritchie. Clarence figures Dick’ll be able to help him sell the Bolivian Jumping Powder quickly and he and Alabama will be able to fly off to some place to relax. That’s the plan anyway. The gangsters from Detroit follow them there and the deal – as most movie drug deals go – goes poorly. I’ll leave these details and scenes for you to decide their merit, but I will tease you with these mini-scenes and lines of dialogue that to me, make this title such a classic:
1) Dick Ritchie’s roommate, Floyd, is played by none other than Academy Award nominee, Brad Pitt. Many gangsters stop by Ritchie’s apartment in acts two and three. But no one is there but Floyd, and he is all too happy to give these tough guys directions to where his pals are – with Soundgarden playing loudly in the background. In one ridiculously funny scene, about seven gangsters come in the living room just as Floyd is smoking a bowl – he is SURE he’s tripping.
2) Clarence offers Dick Ritchie’s friend, Elliot (Bronson Pinchot) some animal crackers in the middle of negotiating a drug deal.
3) Alabama’s infamous fight scene with one of the gangsters from Detroit (played by the man who would become Tony Soprano – James Gandolfini…) There are different versions of the film – one of which is NC17, I think – but regardless of which one you see, this is one of the toughest scenes to get through… ever?
4) The few but potent scenes in which Clarence talks to Elvis (Val Kilmer). These are valuable scenes because they put us in the mind of a guy who we can identify with, but who’s also kind of a madman. I mean, he’s talking to Elvis for crying out loud! We don’t get a lot of information about Clarence’s Mom – and the scenes with his Dad (Dennis Hopper) make it clear that Clarence didn’t really have a lot of genuine guidance growing up. So we feel for the lad when Elvis looks at him in the mirror and says, “I like you, Clarence. Always have (snaps & points fingers at him)… always will.”