“You’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so cool.”
Three simple words, uttered at the end of this film that sums up the whole movie. The characters, the performances, the unrequited love between the two protagonists, it is oh so very cool. True Romance was written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott. So what we have is a hybrid of infectious dialogue, remarkable characters and dark comedic moments common to a Tarantino movie but without his trademark nonlinear structure and the homages and references to other movies are toned down a great deal. Simply put, True Romance is a love story. When you strip away the gratuitous violence, gangsters, pimps, drug busts and pushy cops then what you are left with are two people in love, doing their best to overcome the many obstacles blocking their way to beginning the life they want.
After the opening credits we meet our protagonist, Clarence Whorley (Christian Slater), sitting at a bar talking to a blonde about his idol, Elvis Presley. He invites her to go watch a Sonny Chiba triple bill at the local cinema with him to which she politely refuses and walks away. Despite being a nice guy, he really doesn’t know how to impress the ladies. In the cinema, his luck seems to change as Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) spills a bucket of popcorn over him. They hit it off, going for pie after the movie and ultimately back at Clarence’s house where they make love. Afterwards Alabama admits to him that she is a call girl hired by Clarence’s boss to show him a good time for his birthday. Clarence is somewhat unperturbed by all this, stating that he had the best night of his life with her to which she also confesses that she has fallen in love with him. This admission is the singular event that sets this whole story in motion as Clarence proves that he will do anything for her despite the dangers to his life in doing so.
His love takes him to visit Drexl (Gary Oldman), Alabama’s pimp, to get her clothes back and explain to him that she will not be coming back. Things, of course, don’t go as swimmingly as you’d expect in this scenario and after an intensely brutal scene, Clarence walks away with a suitcase filled with what he thinks is Alabama’s clothes but is really full off $500,000 worth of cocaine. When they discover this, Clarence contacts his friend to set up a buyer in LA to offload the drugs in one single sitting and setting him and his new wife up for the best possible start to a new life. Unknown to them however, the Italian mafia want their drugs back and since Clarence left his driver’s license back at Drexl’s, they know who took it.
After a few sterling scenes and performances by Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini and Brad Pitt, the movie climaxes with a Mexican stand-off between the police, the mafia and two hired thugs with machine guns. Clarence and Alabama of course are right in the thick of it with their suitcase full of cocaine and a bag full of money.
Slater gives one of his best performances here, playing Clarence perfectly. In the beginning when he is describing Elvis, in many ways he is describing himself. As we see throughout the film Clarence is the type of man to live up to the “live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse” mentality and if Tarantino had his way, this is exactly what would have happened. He is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and opens his soul to Alabama from the start. You can’t help but like him as his passion and unrequited love for his wife puts him in situations that we’d all love to say we’d do the same but know fine well we wouldn’t.
Alabama on the other hand is the cute ditzy blonde with a naïve view of the world. She has seen a lot of terrible things before meeting with Clarence but still retains a romantic, almost innocent view of the world. The chemistry between Clarence and Alabama is infectious and you find yourself rooting for them throughout the movie. Despite the chaos surrounding the pair, they never lose sight of each other; when Drexl has Clarence on the ground or when Vincent (Gandolfini) is beating Alabama, you can’t help but feel that the heart they show to overcome their adversary comes from the love of their other half.
The supporting cast is like a who’s who of Hollywood A-listers. The cameo from Christopher Walken in his scene with Dennis Hopper is one of the most memorable and tense pieces of film history. Two giants of Hollywood cinema going head to head in what has got to be the coolest exchange in any movie only topped when DeNiro squared off against Pacino in Heat. Brad Pitt also stands out as the affable stoner Floyd, Clarence’s Friend Dick Ritchie’s roommate. In the very short time he appears in the film, he will be guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, most notably when four shotgun wielding mafia thugs burst into his home moments after he takes a hit from his bong.
Hans Zimmer’s marvelous score fits the film perfectly. With a nod to the Badlands theme, his light but hauntingly eerie music is dotted throughout this film, creating a mood that will touch even the staunchest of viewers. It is a tune that will stick with you long after the movie is finished but this isn’t such a bad thing.
In the commentary, Tarantino states that although he wrote it, Scott made a far different film from what he would’ve made. This, he also states, doesn’t make any of them better or worse. Clarence died in Tarantino’s original script, something that Scott fought fervently to change. He was quoted as stating “I just fell in love with these two characters and didn’t want to see them die”. I must say that I’m with Tony Scott on this one. Although the original ending would be a bittersweet and poignant moment, giving us the happy ending just makes the film all the more fulfilling. We don’t want another Romeo & Juliet or Titanic, especially in the run up to Valentines Day when loved ones want to be together and dream of their own happy endings.