Scott's action, Tarantino's dialogue combine for a classic

A Look Back at Film

‘True Romance’ is one of best action-crime films of 1990s

by Jase Howell

“True Romance” is an interesting piece of work to look back on. It is a film filled with oddball characters, some from the fringes of society — pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers — along with movie executives, stoners and the Mafia.

It is likewise a film that could have only come from the mind of Quentin Tarantino, who didn’t direct the film but did pen the screenplay, and you don’t have to read the credits to realize that. The brainy, rapid-fire banter laden with pop-culture references amidst smatterings of bullets and blood — Tarantino’s fingerprints are all over it.

It also didn’t hurt that director Tony Scott had a ridiculous wealth of talent to work with in this bloody action treasure from 1993. Although Christian Slater, in perhaps his best performance, is the star, “True Romance” has arguably one of the greatest ensemble casts in the history of cinema. Some of the finest actors of the past 40 years lent their talents here: Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper and Brad Pitt, the latter in one of his earliest roles. Supporting these acting giants were James Gandolfini, Bronson Pinchot, Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn, Saul Rubineck and Patricia Arquette. Val Kilmer and Samuel L. Jackson have minor roles. Some may have more screen time than others, but everybody makes the most of their opportunities, and Tarantino supplies the tools to make this film crackle.

Clarence Worley (Slater) is a loner who works in a comic book store in Detroit. His only other hobbies are watching Sonny Cheba films and listening to Elvis Presley, and both of these figure prominently in the film. A chance set-up by Clarence’s boss leads to him meeting and falling for Alabama Whitman (Arquette), the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold who in turn falls for him.

The two get hitched and the trouble begins. Clarence is intent on picking up Alabama’s things from her pimp, played by the chameleonic Oldman. The dialogue between Slater and Oldman in this great scene is one of the first of many great exchanges in this film. After the dust has settled, Clarence finds himself leaving not with Alabama’s clothes, but unbeknownst to him a suitcase full of uncut cocaine.

The two then head to L.A., where Clarence knows a struggling actor friend (Michael Rappaport) who knows people who may have use for a suitcase full of illicit white powder. A suitcase full of cocaine, however, is usually missed by somebody, and pretty soon mobster Vincenzo Coccotti (Walken) is looking for the couple. Instead, he finds Clarence’s father (Hopper), and the two veteran thespians engage in a classic exchange of dialogue you’re not likely to forget. Walken talking about the tells of a liar and Hopper explaining the history of the Sicilian people to the man who he knows has come to kill him is vintage Tarantino dialogue, and gives us a glimpse of what we would see in his subsequent films.

There is no doubt action guru Scott’s style differs from Tarantino’s, so “True Romance” has a slicker, more glossy feel than, say, “Pulp Fiction.” It employs more conventional cinematography than a Tarantino film, but regardless, the scripted exchanges and Scott’s over-the-top violence make for remarkable film. If Tarantino’s dialogue fuels the film, Scott’s style of bloody confrontations adds its own flavor. The final shootout scene, which true to Tarantino’s script and style features a Mexican standoff, ranks as on my one personal favorites.

“True Romance” is without a doubt one of the best crime films of the 1990s, and one that definitely holds its own and stands the test of time nearly 20 years later.