True Romance (1993)

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Clarence and Alabama, a perfect picture of 'True Romance'

Written by Quentin Tarantino (and Roger Avary)

Directed by Tony Scott

Starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette

True Romance achieves where other nerd-fantasies fail; This is a competent action film with sharp dialogue and great performances by all. Clarence Worley [Christian Slater, who I believe is supposed to be the idealized version of the geek-chic auteurs of the early 90’s like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino) falls in love with an equally smitten young lady, Alabama (Patricia Arquette), whom he meets at a Sonny Chiba marathon in a run down movie theater in Detroit. She’s the perfect girl for him. Too perfect. She’s a hooker with a heart of gold and wouldn’t you know it, her pimp is gonna kill her if she ups and quits on him, which she does. So Clarence and Alabama get hitched, then in an act of, you guessed it- TRUE ROMANCE, Clarence goes above and beyond in order to free her from the clutches of her pimp, played to perfection by a wiggerized Gary Oldman. Clarence and Alabama hit the road to sell some coke that Clarence lifted from the deceased pimp, though not before a quick stop at his father’s trailer (an uncharacteristically serene and sweet Dennis Hopper) and we’re off to the genre-staple races!

I think, in this rare instance, the film was advanced by the fact that scribe Quentin Tarantino did not direct, since this is as much an action film as it is a character piece and while Tarantino’s films are certainly violent, they are not action packed (as evidenced by his refrain from fight scenes in his WW2 film Inglorious Basterds). True Romance is the Citizen Kane of romantic action comedies. ‘Romance’ taps into the zeitgeist of the action flicks of the late 80’s and early 90’s to produce the greatest amalgamation of what made the genre work. Guns, violence, larger than life villains, blood orange sunsets and cocaine! It helps that genre legend Tony Scott directs this masterpiece, but what you have is the gun-fu influence of John Woo and the snappy buddy-action trope of Shane Black’s work, plus the teenage-appeal of Christian Slater in one of his standard too-cool-for-school performances. This is not to devalue the pitch-perfect performance of Patricia Arquette as Alabama, the sweetest hooker with a heart of gold to ever grace the silver screen.

Their dialogue together is pure Tarantino, but in a romantic, fetishized light. It sounds like someone’s idealized version of a pulp romance novel, a teenager’s wet dream of a romance played out in between the gun fights of his favorite action movies. Clarence and Alabama are the kind of perfect couple desperately lonely people dream up in their heads while watching more interesting lives play out for fictional characters on movie screens. Thusly, the title True Romance is apt for this fully realized man-child geek fantasy.

After leaving Hopper’s place, we meet an assortment of friends and new associates of Clarence and Mallory’s, some of whom pass through without incident, such as Lloyd,a couch-potato stoner room mate (Brad Pitt in a legendary method acting performance) [Incidentally, What self-respecting pot head wouldn’t sober up long enough to acquire his McGuyvered honey bear bong?] of Clarence’s best friend (Michael Rapaport in a sweet, innocent, naive performance), a struggling actor trying to make in in L.A. and others, such as Bronson Pinochet as their amateurish cocaine connection, Saul Rubinek as a Joel Silver-esque producer of B-grade war movies (“Coming Home in a Body Bag”), James Gandolfini doing his thing as a bad guy heavy and Val Kilmer in an uncredited performance as Clarence’s close and personal friend Elvis Presley, a figment of Clarence’s imagination, but every bit as important a friend to Clarence as Alabama, who affect their lives in profound, horrific ways.

Add all these ingredients together and you’ve got a perfect deconstruction of the R-rated action extravaganza genre. These are all parts of other action movies we’ve seen, some of the actors in this movie have even been in those movies. The genius of True Romance is that Tarantino has whittled the genre down to its essence and removed the cheese factor from the cliches of the genre, making rote scenes feel fresh and vibrant in ways other action films could only dream of, with a perfect action film director.

True Romance is a sweet, funny, crazy violent and completely satisfying film that sends up, elevates, reinvents and canonizes the B-grade action movie genre into a self-referential blaze of glory and love. Love for love’s sake and love of action.

Sometimes a film comes together with the right people, at the right time and gives us a perfect product. True Romance is one of those rare moments and should be cherished by film lovers as much as Clarence and Alabama cherish their own True Romance.

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