February 22nd, 2010

Rose-coloured reviews *True Romance*

There are better movies in the world than True Romance, as written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, but there are very few I like as much. And after close to a dozen viewings, I’m pretty sure that though TR is not the best movie ever, it is very very very good.

The film starts in Detroit where a lonely loser named Clarence tries to pick up a girl in a bar, failing when he suggests going to a triple feature of martial arts movies. He goes anyway, alone, and there succeeds in picking up another (much prettier girl). They have fun, have pie, have sex, and then have a poignant conversation on the billboard frame that adjoins Clarence’s bedroom window. In this conversation, the girl, named Alabama, admits that a) she is a call girl and b) she has fallen in love with Clarence.

One of the many reasons I love this movie (we’ll get to them) is that it combines real urban grit with the hyper-intensity of (Tarantino’s favourite) pulp romance. There’s so much realism in the portrayal of Detroit, of people’s speech and snacks and clothes–but it’s all just a bit more intense, dramatic, hyper.

This film is not for everyone. If you try watching it, at least get to Alabama’s speech on that billboard frame below an SUV advert: in the dark and breath smoking in the cold, wrapped in a duvet and sniffling tears, incredibly unsexy and rapturously earnest as she exclaims, “I am not what they call Florida white trash!”–if you are unmoved there, you are probably not going to enjoy the rest of the movie, at least not in the heart-pounding-joy way I do.

Because it’s pulp, the plot is propulsive, a freight train. However, because Tarantino is a pretty awesome writer (in my opinion) the characters are well-fleshed out, and every bit of dialogue, no matter how much it moves things forward, also illuminates the person who says it. I don’t even know why the film got such an amazing cast, because TR came out a year before *Pulp Fiction* and QT wasn’t super-famous yet, but there are no bad performances here. Maybe director Tony Scott had something to do with getting the performers and getting such great work out of them. He’s an action guy, I’m seeing as I read over his filmography just now–I’ve seen none of his other work. But it makes sense–the fight scenes in TR are really sharp.

The first one is Clarence vs. Alabama’s former pimp, Drexl, a scene that’s darkly funny, elegantly choreographed and brutally shocking. The aftermath of this battle–one of those coincidences that happen only in movies–sends Clarence and Alabama on the run, in terror for their lives and in search for a big payoff.

They wind up going to LA to visit Clarence’s old friend Dick Richie, a great hapless loser, struggling actor and surprisingly helpful guy. Anyone who ever caught this movie while half asleep on an airplane or a friend’s couch remember’s Dick’s roommate, Floyd with his honeybee bong and rasta hair–consummate goofball performance.

But the cast is huge, and all the performances are great. I do have to admit that, other than a few micro-lines from extras, Alabama is the only woman in the picture. Which is odd, no doubt, but in this role Patricia Arquette gives such a great performance, she carries the day for her gender, I’m pretty sure. She’s a sexpot much of the time, and Clarence is embodies the nerdboy living a fantasy very well, but I am always impressed every time I see Alabama’s fight scene–totally tough, totally terrifying, brilliant (and it’s against James Gandolfini!)

The violence is terrifying, the performances are stellar, the dialogue is razor sharp, but I really do love this movie for the romance (full disclosure: I’ve been watching it almost every Valentine’s Day since I was a teenager). Unlike so many many many romantic movies, the romance isn’t a will-they-or-won’t-they until the final clinch–from the half-hour mark on, this is a couple whose love is the *only* thing they can count on. The action springs from a threat brought by the foolish bravery that love inspires (that’s one way of seeing it, anyway), but the love itself is never in question, no matter how much blood and suffering comes their way. Which I think is much more romantic than most anything in the “rom-com” category.

That bloody love is underlined by Hans Zimmer’s stunning score of xylophone and marimba. Please go to that link and listen–even if you think you would hate the movie you might like the music. It’s seriously lovely, kind of a martial waltz, that’s the best way I can think of describing it.

And that’s what the movie is–a very violent bit of beauty. In the final shootout, pillows get caught in the cross-fire and all the death and mayhem gets covered in a drifting snowfall of white feathers. Gorgeous. Stylized, sure, but in a shockingly believable, achingly heartfelt way.


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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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