Archive Review: True Romance (1993)

“True Romance” blossoms on a lot of levels, but it most distinctively bears the mark of an early Quentin Tarantino film. The scene dynamics and the way it plays beautifully in and out of turning points are all early signs of the would-be master at work. Released the year between “Resevoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” “True Romance” doesn’t carry his directorial signature, but it reeks of Tarantino in all the right ways and compares favorably with those two early ’90s crime thrillers.

The replay value of “True Romance” dwells in how its bounty of supporting actors all went on to outdo its two stars. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette play Clarence and Alabama, a couple who meet because Alabama was a call girl hired to sleep with Clarence as a birthday present. They fall in love and marry instantly. To put the past behind them, Clarence visits her pimp (Gary Oldman — that’s awesome supporting role number one), kills him and makes off with a half million in coke.

Hunting the runaway couple are agents of a mob boss played in one 100 percent Tarantino scene by Christopher Walken and later by James Gandolfini in a breakout performance. Brad Pitt, who worked with director Tony Scott’s brother Ridley as an unknown just two years before in another fugitive film, “Thelma & Louise,” plays the unassuming stoner roommate of Clarence’s best friend (played by comedian Michael Rapaport). Other notables are brief appearances from Samuel L. Jackson and Val Kilmer, as well as Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s father.

Even with this “secret” knowledge, this dynamic works for this story, one that attempts to broaden one’s definition of love to include murder, running from the law and flat out acting nuts. Clarence and Alabama are unconventional and completely stupid, deserving of losing everything, but in front of a backdrop of characters who define true moral scumminess, it becomes easy to root for them.

Scott certainly helped create the suspense necessary for a dialog-heavy Tarantino script and that warrants applause, but Quentin simply owns this picture at its core. Hopper’s “history lesson” where he laughs in Walken’s face as he refers to his ancestors as a racial epithet showcase Tarantino’s classic tension-twisting. The way a scene’s momentum shifts at the drop of a hat and climaxes into pure mayhem captures his utter brilliance.

The characters spanning a wide array of vivid strangeness and the sheer untamable wildness of the story and events make “True Romance” hard to forget.

4/5 Stars

True Romance (1993)
Directed by Tony Scott
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper


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