|True Romance (1993)
Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, Michael Rappaport, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek, James Gandolfini, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Tony Scott
It seems like such an innocent time in retrospect. In the fall of 1993, when the box office champions were digital dinosaurs, run-down cowboys, and animated genies, there came a little crime movie called “True Romance.” Packed to the gills with big name actors (along with a few that would make their names in the years to come), the movie came and went at the box office in the blink of an eye. There are several reasons for this. The movie’s director, Tony Scott (“Top Gun,” “Man on Fire”), was on a streak of directing some supremely bad movies (1990’s “Revenge” and “Days of Thunder,” 1991’s “The Last Boy Scout”), and had lost any clout he may have had. Also, “Pulp Fiction” was still a year away, so no one knew about the movie’s screenwriter, a young buck named Quentin Tarantino. “True Romance” cost $12.5 million to make, and earned $12 million at the box office. The studio promptly sent the movie to video, in hopes that they would recoup the money spent on marketing.
The rest, as they say, is history. “True Romance” blew up on video, instantly roping in those who were lucky enough to find a copy of Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) at the video store. Despite his poor judgment of late, Scott was an excellent choice here, polishing the rougher edges of Tarantino’s work to make something just as enjoyable and far more accessible. It remains Scott’s best movie to date.
Set in Detroit, “True Romance” is about a lonely comic book store employee named Clarence (Christian Slater) who meets up with a clumsy hottie named Alabama (Patricia Arquette) at a Sonny Chiba triple feature. Only after a night of hot sex does Clarence learn that Alabama is a hooker, paid by Clarence’s boss to give him some fun. They both realize their connection is more than hooker-john, and the two decide to get married. Clarence then confronts Alabama’s pimp, Drexl (a hilarious Gary Oldman), to tell him that Alabama is done tricking. Things don’t go smoothly; Clarence winds up killing Drexl, and instead of taking her luggage, Clarence inadvertently swipes a suitcase full of uncut cocaine.
Knowing that they have to get out of town as soon as possible, Clarence and Alabama head for Los Angeles, hoping that Dick Ritchie (Michael Rappaport), an old high school classmate of Clarence’s and aspiring actor, can help them find someone who will buy the coke at a deep discount. The problem comes when the hired goons of local drug lord Blue Lou Boyle (just a name, no actor was assigned the role), the owner of the coke, come to reclaim their boss’ product.
The beauty of the movie is in the details. Drexl is white, but clearly thinks he’s black (having the British Oldman play the part adds yet another layer to the humor of his scenes). As aspiring actors go, Dick Ritchie is simply awful, and his roommate Floyd (Brad Pitt, who’s even funnier than Oldman) smokes anything that will catch fire. The movie doesn’t spend the entire time playing against type, though. Saul Rubinek and Bronson Pinchot are pitch perfect as the big time movie producer (think Joel Silver) and his arrogant, spoiled, no-talent lackey. And we haven’t even gotten to Elvis (Val Kilmer), Clarence’s guide through the entire journey. Find the widescreen version of the movie if possible, as Kilmer gets literally twice as much screen time in that version than he does in the full screen version.
The movie’s best scene, bar none, is between Clarence’s father, Cliff (Dennis Hopper) and Vincent Coccotti (Christopher Walken), the right hand man of Blue Lou Boyle. Coccotti tortures Cliff into giving up his son’s whereabouts. Cliff, knowing he’s going to die either way, decides to insult the Sicilian-born Coccotti the worst way he can think of. Never have racial slurs been used so eloquently.
Despite the many, many wonderful things about “True Romance,” it loses half a star for containing one of the worst lines in movie history. When Clarence comes home after killing Drexl and tells Alabama what he’s done, Alabama responds by telling him, through tears, that “I think what you did was, so, romantic.” The line falls with a deafening THUD, similar to Andie MacDowell’s infamous “Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed,” line from “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Tarantino can do lots of things with dialogue, but writing sexy eludes him.
“True Romance” was a pioneer action movie in many respects, in that it placed an equal influence on the dialogue and characters as it did on the action. It may not have reinvented the genre entirely, but the action movies that soon followed (“The Professional,” “Con Air,” “Grosse Pointe Blank”) were far more enjoyable than their predecessors (again, “The Last Boy Scout”). Sonny Chiba and Elvis would certainly approve.
Following suit with nearly every other Quentin Tarantino-related film, “True Romance” was re-released as a two-disc Unrated Director’s Cut box set, completely re-mastered and featuring a host of special features. Transferred over to disc in a truly cinematic widescreen aspect ratio and boasting a fantastic Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, “True Romance” looks and sounds better than ever. The new DVD also includes hours of bonus material including three full-length audio commentaries, deleted scenes and more.
Probably the most highly touted of the two-disc Special Edition are the three full-length audio commentaries featured on disc one. The first track is recorded by stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as they share stories about the filming of the movie and their individual opinions on their respective characters. While it’s interesting to listen to the actors discuss the film nearly a decade since they last watched it, it is also the least enjoyable of the three tracks. Track two (with director Tony Scott) and three (with Quentin Tarantino) are by far some of the most impressive commentary tracks recorded for a DVD, and they’re both completely different in content. While Scott discusses the various film aesthetics implemented in the shooting of the film, Tarantino goes into great detail on how he concieved the original story. Also featured on the first disc is a director’s storyboard track that enables the audience to view Tony Scott’s original storyboards while watching the film.
Disc two is where all of the other extras are located, including a behind-the-scenes option that gives the audience access to actual footage shot during filming by pressing “Enter” on your DVD remote when a heart icon appears. Along with eleven deleted scenes (with optional director commentary) and Tarantino’s controversial alternate ending (with optional director or writer commentary), the DVD also features four select commentary tracks by some of the film’s supporting characters. This was a brilliant idea by the studio to include tracks by Hopper, Pitt, Kilmer and Rapaport on their scenes, because it lends even further input on the film as a whole. Rounding out the second disc is a publicity gallery filled with trailers, TV spots, an animated photo gallery, and the EPK original 1993 featurette for the film.
This is by far one of the best DVD treatments yet (including the other Tarantino releases) and should be an integral part of anyone’s DVD collection. With an overabundance of movie knowledge from the film’s cast and crew, and exciting features that were cut from the film to preserve it’s R rating, the “True Romance: Unrated Director’s Cut” is truly an uncensored disc that delivers on everything it promises.