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CINEMA REMEMBERED: True Romance and The CALL GIRL WITH A HEART Moment

THIS WEEK: True Romance (1993) A loner meets the girl of his dreams under unlikely circumstances and gets caught up in a vicious criminal underworld.

HOW THE MOMENT STARTS: A comic book geek spends some time between the sheets with a stunning beauty way out of his league. The cherry on top is she’s also into all the nerdy things he is. Too bad all isn’t as it seems. Turns out, the love of his life is a call girl with a dangerous pimp.

Warner Bros.

THE PREFACE: While Reservoir Dogs is considered the first Quentin Tarantino film, his first screenplay to hit the silver screen was True Romance. This crime-laced romance wasn’t all mushy or lovey-dubby, it was gritty and hard-edged. Tarantino was just establishing his voice, but you can still smell his traditional spices from a mile away. The script reaks of Tarantino-isms. Fans will be delighted with the proverbial feast.

The only other of his screenplays this mad scientist didn’t direct was Natural Born Killers. There is some controversy with Oliver Stone’s re-writes altering the true vision. Perhaps this spurred Tarantino on to direct his own writing? Where, NBK may have missed the mark, Romance feels spot on.

Warner Bros.

Tony Scott directs, maintaining the energy of the violence, but also letting a moment breath when it needs to. Tarantino loves his speeches, and Scott lets their flavour brew. Known more for his exciting action flicks like Top Gun, the visionary director balances the tone amazingly. We will shift from sincerity, to brutal aggression, to extreme language, to strong emotion, without ever feeling out of place.

True Romance follows the story of a lost man, one misguided step away from Travis Bickle, who finds love for the first time. Because she is “under contract” to her pimp, and wants to be with our hero, a conflict arises. The quest is to free the princess from bondage… and live through it, to reap the rewards of a happy life together.

Gary Oldman as the Rastafarian Pimp (Warner Bros.)

There are so many amazing moments in this story. Selecting That Moment was a challenge. There are a number of compelling characters, each with their own stand-out scene. Almost every exchange of dialogue is highlight worthy. An impressive cast leads the way brilliantly conveying the astounding work of a burgeoning wordsmith.

Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken have a stellar scene together in which they explore Sicilian history, Gary Oldman plays a Rastafarian(?!) pimp who features in an intense confrontation, Val Kilmer appears as our hero’s inner Elvis (you have to see it to believe it), James Gandolfini has a shocking and brutal role, there is also a monumental cult classic final shoot-out, and Brad Pitt even shows up as a scene-stealing Honey-Bear-toking stoner called Floyd.

That said, none of these moments compare to the heart of the story – a.k.a. That Moment In. Without this linchpin, the foundation would crumble, and the movie would fall apart.

Warner Bros.

THE SET-UP: True Romance features one of the most unlikely confessing / professing scenes I have ever -felt-. The Moment I selected is one that drives the plot and sets the stage. For me, these are hugely important story-telling elements. The heart of a movie will determine the overall enjoyment. Every time. What the movie IS rarely gets boiled down to one scene so effectively as it does here.

Christian Slater plays our lonely hero, Clarence. He works at a comic book store, and has several nerdy obsessions. One of them is going to a Grindhouse theater and watching a kung-fu marathon every birthday. This is the highlight of his year.

Patricia Arquette plays the girl of his dreams, Alabama. She’s into all the same geeky stuff. After all, he meets her in the kung-fu triple-bill. What seems like love at first sight isn’t actually quite as it seems. Turns out Alabama was hired by Clarence’s boss. She’s a call girl. Before Clarence finds out about this, they fall in love like a Hollywood romance.

The big problem is Drexl, Alabama’s pimp. He won’t want to let his “product” go that easily. Conflict arises. Our lovers have a clear-cut mission… until it all goes wrong, and spirals out of control, into a dizzying shock finale.

Alabama & Clarence… earlier in the movie (Warner Bros.)

THAT MOMENT: Clarence and Alabama are in a rooftop setting, lit like the other Scott in Blade Runner or something. Swirling steam helps create a theatrical atmosphere. Chilly weather helps convey the uncomfortable situation these characters are in. A metaphorical billboard looms in the background: “Don’t wait for the dust to settle” – or in other words, “Carpe Diem.” And Alabama definitely “Seizes the day.”

This confession of deceit that turns into a profession of love is most unexpected and delightfully honest. This isn’t your typical cheesy Hollywood “I love you” speech we all roll our eyes at.

Arquette delivers an emotional performance, tugging on your heart during her confession. She mentions how if he went inside he’d see a letter that says “Dear Clarence” on it, because she couldn’t get any further. It’s so truthful it hurts (like the title of this movie alludes).

Alabama continues, saying she’s “Only been a call girl for exactly 4 days, and you’re my third customer. I’m not damaged goods. I’m not what they call ‘White Trash.’ And when it comes to relationships I’m 100 percent – 100 percent – monogamous.”

Wow. Out of all the ways to put it, Tarantino put it right.

Warner Bros.

Clarence was worried something was “Rotten like the state of Denmark,” but he feels the same way. He isn’t disappointed. Clarence is realistic about his station in life. In fact, he says it’s the best night he’s ever had. She asks if he means it in a physical way, but he’s talking about the personal relationship they’ve quickly formed. The only lie Alabama actually told was about liking the Partridge Family like Clarence does.

The song playing in the background, increases in volume, sparking a tempo for the scene to follow, orchestrating our feelings. We fall in love with this earnest couple, however unlikely we think love-at-first-sight is. We also know, being a dark crime thriller, it won’t end pretty. All we can do is like the “pretty” while it’s there. This Hans Zimmer theme is forever associated with the movie, like a lot of songs in other Tarantino films.

Warner Bros.

Scott knows exactly how to film this emotional scene, staying mainly on our lovers. Despite being one long scene of dialogue, the editing never feels like it’s that long. Scott also knows the perfect moment to leave this scene. As we wait for Slater to answer if he loves Alabama despite all that was revealed, we Cut To: The newly married couple walking out of church.

This Moment In sequence amplifies what happened earlier in their date and ignites the fuse on the conflict with Drexl. We know Clarence’s motives and are along for the ride. Whatever danger our newlyweds encounter we want them to survive even more than we would with a typical action flick.

THAT MOMENT REMEMBERED: This scene fuels the action for the rest of the story. What starts out as freeing Alabama from Drexl, spirals out into an epic John Woo shoot-out by the end. True Romance was just a sign of things to come from Quentin Tarantino. This film helped create a whole sub-genre that Tony Scott could flourish in.

This was also our first glimpse at the power Patricia Arquette had within her, years before she won the Oscar for Boyhood. There was also the huge potential of Christian Slater. A lot of critics and fans took notice of him in roles like this, Heathers, and Pump Up The Volume. Unfortunately, Slater never took off, despite being compared to a young Jack Nicholson at the time, and following this up with a high profile role in Interview With A Vampire (replacing River Phoenix).

Warner Bros.

True Romance definitely created an appetite for Tarantino’s stylish dialogue and underbelly crime stories. This small little debut ranks right up there with Tarantino’s other more recognized work, despite not being directed by him. Scott deserves a lot of credit for harnessing all this potential and not getting drowned by it. Somehow, this story of unexpected romance rose high above all our expectations – especially at the time of its debut.

Warner Bros.

You have to wonder if we didn’t care about this couple so much, would we care about what happens to them? The answer is obvious to me. That Moment demonstrates why we care and why action films still need to set the stage as much as a drama does, especially if they hope to become a memorable cult classic like True Romance.


NEXT WEEK: The recent sci-fi surprise cult classic, EX MACHINA.

Director:

Tony Scott

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