Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, August 23, 2010

True Romance

Clarence (Christian Slater) is a lowly clerk at a comic book store, who happens to love kung fu movies and Elvis. The problem is he's lonely and doesn't understand why a woman won't go see a Sonny Chiba triple feature with him on his birthday.

Going by himself, no doubt his initial plan anyway, he's lucky enough to get popcorn spilled on his lap by Alabama (Patricia Arquette) She not only watches all three kung fu movies with him, but takes him out for pie afterwards. They hit it off wonderfully and before long he has her in bed. Certainly a great birthday, but a little too good to be true.

He soon hears the catch when Alabama reveals that she's a call girl, hired by Clarence's boss as a secret birthday present. She has however, fallen instantly in love with Clarence and just wants to be with him. Clarence takes it all in stride, as he's just as smitten. They waste no time, getting married the next morning, and start their life as couple. Alabama reveals that a guy named Drexl (Gary Oldman) was her pimp, and this knowledge doesn't sit well with Clarence. While considering this, Elvis (Val Kilmer from the neck down) appears behind Clarence in the bathroom mirror and convinces him to get rid of Drexl, also adding "I like you Clarence, Always have, Always will."

Drexl meanwhile establishes himself as a seriously dangerous character. He not only pimps but deals cocaine He casually shoots some thugs he's dealing with without missing a beat, as a punchline to a joke. Oldman creates quite a character in Drexl, a psychopath in dreadlocks, covered with scars who also happens to believe that he's black. When Clarence comes calling he isn't threatened, although Clarence reveals a bit of psychosis himself, not backing down in the slightest. After a bit of a struggle Drexl has Clarence at his mercy and brags to his assistant:
Drexl: He must have thought it was white boy day. It ain't white boy day, is it?
Marty: No man, It ain't white boy day.

Clarence turns the tables on Drexl, and kills him, forgetting that he left his driver's license in his hand. On the way out he takes a large amount of cocaine and heads back to Alabama. They decide to find Clarence's friend Dick (Michael Rappaport) in Hollywood, to get help selling it. They hit the road stopping in to see Clarence's father, Clifford (Dennis Hopper,) who used to be a cop. Clarence wants him to check and see what information the cops have about Drexl's murder. He establishes that they assumed it was drug related, possibly Blue Lou Boyle, a powerful mob figure that Drexl was tied in with. Clarence leaves the number and address for Dick's place with his Dad and they're off.

It turns out, however, that Blue Lou's men aren't far behind. Led by Jimmy Coccotti (Christopher Walken)they pay Clifford a visit. Coccotti makes it clear that things won't be pleasant. introducing himself:
Coccotti: You know who I am, Mr. Worley?
Clifford Worley: I give up. Who are you?
Coccotti: I'm the Anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood. You tell the angels in heaven you never seen evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you. My name is Vincent Coccotti. I work as counsel for Mr. Blue Lou Boyle, the man your son stole from. I hear you were once a cop so I can assume you've heard of us before. Am I correct?
Clifford Worley: I've heard of Blue Lou Boyle.
Coccotti: I'm glad. Hopefully that will clear up the "how full of shit am I?" question you've been asking yourself.

 They soon start working him over, but Clifford doesn't give up anything. Realizing he's not walking away he manages an act of defiance, by asking for a cigarette and telling the Sicilian Coccoti a story about the Sicilian lineage. Coccotti doesn't appreciate this and kills Clifford. They also find Dick's address on the fridge. Despite the outcome, it's a treat to watch Walken and Hopper play off each other.

Clarence and Alabama have reached Dick's place, meeting Dick's roommate Floyd (Brad Pitt,) a pothead who never leaves the couch but listens to everyone's conversations. Dick is amazed at the amount of cocaine, and they conclude they'll need a big money person, as Clarence wants to sell it all at once and fast. Fortunately Dick goes to acting class with Eliot (Bronson Pinchot) who is assistant to super successful producer Lee Donowitz. Donowitz agrees to do the deal but wants a sample before setting up the meeting.
Blue Lou's man, Virgil stops by Dick's and find Floyd is very helpful, giving them Clarence and Alabama's hotel without any coercion at all, muttering under his breath once they're well out of earshot  "Don't condescend me, man. I'll fuckin' kill ya, man"
Elliot has been busted with the sample bag of coke all over his face. The cops pressure him and threaten him with the prospect of prison sex, and he quickly breaks and agrees to wear a wire for the meet, helping them bust Donowitz in exchange for dropping his own charges.
Virgil quickly finds the hotel. Clarence has gone out for food so Alabama is alone. She tries to claim she's someone else, but Virgil doesn't buy it, beating her horrificly. She tries to fight back but Virgil seriously overpowers her. She doesn't tell him anything but he eventually finds the cocaine under the bed. Although Alabama can barely move, she holds a corkscrew up to Virgil. Admiring her spirit, he puts down his gun and toys with her offering a free shot. She surprises him by jamming it into his foot, which allows another struggle  culminating in Alabama hitting him over the head with a toilet lid, lighting him on fire with lit hairspray and finally shooting him. Clarence gets back soon after, and they clean her up and put her in a hooded sweatshirt hoping to downplay the injuries.
Clarence, Alabama and Dick meet up with Elliot and head over to meet Donowitz. Clarence nearly kills Eliot in the elevator because he has a bad feeling. Elliot doesn't handle it well and starts crying and pleading "I wish someone would come take me away." The police laugh at Elliot from a room down the hall from Donowitz, expressing their like for Clarence's crazy wild man behavior. They don't pick up on Elliot's strange pleading, Clarence apologizes and they head for the meet.
They spend some time chatting with Donowitz. Clarence admires his film "Coming Home in a Body bag" He convinces Donowitz that he's on the level, while Elliot tries to stay close enough that the cops can hear everything through the wire. Donowitz has mercenary type bodyguards with automatic weapons protecting him. Clarence visits the bathroom for another conference with Elvis, as the cops storm in unaware that the bodyguards really hate cops. Of course Blue Lou's men are also en route, and there is soon a ridiculous amount of shooting which we hope Clarence and Alabama can get through.
Ultimately. True Romance is a movie which lives up to it's title. Tony Scott delivers an ugly world full of bright colors and copious amounts of blood and action. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino's script and truly top notch acting talent, the dialogue is just as exciting. We end up with a twisted fairytale about Romeo and Juliet, if they'd had no families, and been influenced by Elvis, poverty and pop culture. The character's aren't deep but they don't need to be with as much talent as is assembled here. Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper all turn in vividly memorable performances.
Christian Slater was great here as the low key yet surprisingly competent oddball. Watching him here it's easy to see why he was predicted as a major talent to watch. Patricia Arquette shows the most range, able to convincingly play eager arm candy as well as a woman who can bash a man's head in with a toilet lid. Their morals are a bit flexible, but one thing that we never doubt is that Clarence and Alabama really love each other. That alone lets them navigate through the treacherous, and ugly environment around them. It's surprisingly sweet for such a graphic and dark movie, but that's alright sometimes. As Alabama says,

"I had to come all the way from the highway and byways of Tallahassee, Florida to MotorCity, Detroit to find my true love. If you gave me a million years to ponder, I would never have guessed that true romance and Detroit would ever go together. And til this day, the events that followed all still seems like a distant dream. But the dream was real and was to change our lives forever. I kept asking Clarence why our world seemed to be collapsing and things seemed to be getting so shitty. And he'd say, "that's the way it goes, but don't forget, it goes the other way too." That's the way romance is... Usually, that's the way it goes, but every once in awhile, it goes the other way too.


Dave @ Cinema Liberated said...

Whatever happened to Christian Slater. I remember watching this and thinking, this guy is gonna have a great career! Now all we have from him is TV shows and "Alone in the Dark"

INDBrent said...

@Dave, yes I know! I thought the same thing. I suspect it was a matter of overhype and a few bad choices. there was Heathers and Pump up the Volume, then obscurity followed by direct to dvdland. Sad story.

Widow_Lady302 said...

For me this cemented both Slater and Oldman as two of the best and least lauded actors of our time. Oldman probably more than Slater, if I'm being honest. I loved this movie, haven't seen it in a long time but think I need to again.

The only thing in the review I'd have to differ with is I saw it more like a twisted McBeth, rather than a Romeo and Juliet. Mr. and Mrs. Mcbeth had the flexable moral fiber that the main characters had, and ultimately had a very functional relationship (albeit laced with a sinister intention).

Great review!

INDBrent said...


Macbeth, hmm..interesting and certainly worth some thought. I can see some comparisons for sure.

I don't think however that Clarence and Alabama have the ambition of the Macbeths. While the Macbeths were a mostly functional partnership they weren't so focused on each other that their love became their main goal.

But their murderous means to that end are more Macbethian...

Mocking Movies said...

Crazy, wonderful movie....even though I know how it will end, the Arquette / Gandolfini death match is riveting every time...too bad about Christian Slater's downward career trajectory...I loved him in "Heathers" and "Pump Up the Volume"

INDBrent said...

It is interesting. While he's kept busy, he stopped short of where everyone imagined he'd end up careerwise. Agreed on "Heather's" and "Pump Up the Volume." both worthwhile. I also really liked another of his movies from around this period, "Julian Po" was the name of it, very bleak and surreal and he was totally working against type in it.

Steve Aldersley said...

A very underrated movie. I'll always love the Walken scene with Hopper.

INDBrent said...

Yes, it is such a great scene in a movie full of them. There's also Gary Oldman's Drexl, and another favorite of mine is Clarence talking to Elvis in the mirror.

M. Hufstader said...

"We end up with a twisted fairytale about Romeo and Juliet, if they'd had no families, and been influenced by Elvis, poverty and pop culture."

Great sentence, and so true. It definitely has a near fairytale feel about it--it's full of violence and insanity, but at the end of the day, it's about Clarence and Alabama and the fact that they will end up together, no matter what. Great review!

INDBrent said...

Thanks M.! I really like that about it. We're not spared the brutality but "sometimes, it goes the other way too."

Mr. Darko said...

I would agree with Hufstader up there and way that sentence is golden. It is also true that this movie had more memorable scenes in it than some movie series do.

Overall it was a great script, turned into a powerhouse by the cast.

INDBrent said...

Thank you Mr. Darko! totally agree, so many perfect scenes, and the talent to pull them off.

Unknown said...

Great review, but alas for me Mickey and Mallory are the best psycho Romeo and Juliet ever. Somehow Christian and Patricia just can't compete with Juliette and Woody. True Romance shines through its supporting cast, which fortunately rises above Tony Scott's direction.

INDBrent said...

Hi Mel and thanks for stopping by! I don't know that I'd compare True Romance to Natural Born Killers. Killers is in my mind, easily the better film, but it's better than most films ever. They may have shared a common origin but Stone made Killers completely his own, enough to make Tarantino disown it. I'm ok with Tony Scott's direction, if not for him, the performances wouldn't exist, although the star power here hopefully made that part of his job easy. I like to keep in mind that True Romance came out before Pulp Fiction and would likely have been a different film if it was made afterwards.