As part of the Quentin Tarantino Blogathon I chose to watch True Romance for a few reasons. One of them being that it was the only film Tarantino is involved with that I hadn’t seen. I found it on Netflix, added it to the queue, and sat down to watch.
It opens with usual Tarantino fare as the main character, Clarence (played by Christian Slater), discusses at great lengths the awesomeness of Elvis Preselly -much like the cast of Reservoir Dogs discussed the true meanings behind the lyrics to a Madonna song. As the film continues, characters reference many obscure and well-known films and even have a drug discussion using “Dr. Zhivago” as a codename. It’s all part of what has now become Tarantino’s shtick. It’s the idea that Tarantino is a walking film encyclopedia and has always and will always know more abou film than you. But now, where as the homage is subtle and endearing, in this film it’s almost gaudy in a “look at what I know” tone that leaks from Slater’s character. It’s almost off-putting at how smug some of these characters can be and how none of them become likeable. Except for Brad Pitt’s character (Floyd) but that’s only because his stoner character is too baked for dialogue.
The story is interesting but it doesn’t do enough to draw you in leaving everything feeling rushed. Originally, Tarantino wrote the film in his signature non-linear style but once the studio purchased it, Tony Scott (the films director) changed it to a more linear structure. I’d be interested to see how the original structure looked like for the film. It might have threw you in when the action was just starting and when doubling back to reveal more about the characters, you would have felt more of a connection to the characters; or at least the feeling of care in general. Unfortunately, that’s what this film suffers most from: a lack of intrigue. As the film dragged on, I found myself caring less and less about what was going to happen. What made it worse was the soundtrack. The songs used in the film were fine, but the score was cute at first, but quickly became overused and annoying. This little marimba knock-around would slowly creep in every time you knew a serious or potentially revealing moment for a character was about to happen. We get it. Melancholia recently suffered from this playing practically the same chords and passages from the same musical orchestration over and over. Once, maybe twice for dramatic effect is fine but when it’s the 14th time, it’s time to put it to rest.
I will say the only thing that kept me interested in this film was the cast. Not necessarily who was acting but just the idea of wondering who would show up next. Let me just give you an idea of who starred in this film: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, and Paul Ben-Victor (who portrayed ‘Spiros Vondas’ on The Wire) and they just kept coming. Even if they killed off one or two, they’d just introduce another. I will admit, when I saw Gary Oldman’s character on screen, I had to pause and just reflect at not only the awesomeness of Oldman and his acting craft, but his chameleon-like (thanks for the adjective Lindsay) ability to truly transform into a character, and might I say that his role in this film has become a favorite of mine.
Tarantino sold the script for about $50,000 and used the money to make Reservoir Dogs, easily a much more powerful and influential film. It also made for an amazing directorial debut and allowed him to go on to continue making films. The film grossed just short of its 13 million dollar budget and was met with lukewarm reception. I feel like most of that has to do with the changes made by Tony Scott and the studio. One of the changes even impacts characters in a completely different film. THE FOLLOWING IS A SPOILER! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ IT, SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. Originally, Clarence dies and Alabama is left a widow and with the $200,000. Once the money runs low, she falls back into a life of crime with none other than Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs. An interesting link in the “Tarantinoverse Canon” now severed. It doesn’t really take away from the films, but it does take away a bit from the mythos of the characters which is sometimes just as important.
Tarantino can say he lost interest in directing this film and chose to sell it, but I’ll always believe there was more reason to it. He chose to let this one go in pursuit of bigger and better things and he chose wisely. He might look back and think of this film as a small stepping-stone to the powerhouse director he became today, but I’ll always look at this film as the one that got away.