Quentin Tarantino’s filmography is replete with violent, dialogue driven narratives that satisfy pretentious film-goers and violence lovers alike. When thinking of romance movies, Tarantino is the last filmmaker that comes to mind. However, True Romance, directed by Tony Scott and written by Tarantino demonstrates the writer’s versatility.
True Romance is Tarantino’s addition to the romance genre. It details down-and-out ne’er-do-wells that find love in an unlikely place, and seek to find happiness and improve their lot through questionable means. His movies have been referred to as “gutter poetry”, which is perhaps the best way to describe True Romance.
Christian Slater plays Clarence, a comic book store clerk and film buff who ekes out an existence in a dingy apartment in Detroit. Patricia Arquette plays Alabama, a sweet southern call girl who falls for Clarence. They’re supported by Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, and Val Kilmer. Kilmer is almost unrecognizable as Clarence’s reoccurring hallucination of Elvis, who on multiple occasions guides and encourages him. As for Oldman, he again seamlessly becomes his character and is easily missed beneath the makeup portraying him as a scarred, intimidating pimp. Even with little screen time he makes a dramatic impression on the movie. Pitt, on the other hand, clashes with his normal acting niche by playing a loser pothead roommate, a comedic role based on his current sex symbol and A-list status. Producer Judd Apatow claims that Pitt’s character inspired Pineapple Express, loving the idea of a loser stoner thrown into conflict with dangerous criminals.
The most remarkable aspect of the film, besides the intermingling of drug trafficking and young love in a re-imagining of Bonnie and Clyde, is the dialogue. In that aspect Tarantino’s influence is most pronounced. The typically tense and dramatic scenes are punctuated with pregnant pauses and carefully crafted dialogue typical of Tarantino. The use of banal, ordinary exchanges in criminal environments replicates the writing style utilized in Pulp Fiction. Of course, it isn’t a Tarantino movie unless racial tensions are addressed, which he does in a particularly tense exchange between Hopper and Walken—a scene Tarantino considers one of his best.
Unfortunately, the film is devoid of the notable cinematography that so often dominates a Tarantino movie. This is probably due to his relegation to writer as opposed to writer and director role he usually occupies. The takes and compositions are exceedingly average, with the brilliant cast and intense dialogue offering the only remarkable elements in the film.
Uplifting, gritty, and unpredictable, True Romance is an excellent pillar in the Tarantino filmography. While not a typical romance movie, it is an excellent addition to the genre.