True Romance was one of the first scripts Quentin Tarantino ever wrote, and was originally part of a mammoth script that eventually morphed into True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. It’s a “lovers on the run” movie, as is Natural Born Killers, although that’s a very different film (and was heavily rewritten by Oliver Stone). True Romance is also the most autobiographical film Tarantino has ever written.
Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) is very obviously based on Tarantino. He’s a young man who is obsessed with Elvis and kung-fu movies, works at the comic book shop Heroes for Sale, and hasn’t really had a girlfriend. His boss hires a call girl, Alabama (Patricia Arquette), who pretends to bump into him at the Sonny Chiba triple bill. They quickly fall in love and get married—the reason he likes her is that she’s nice to him, and that’s pretty much it. He then decides to kill her pimp, Drexl Spivey (Gary Oldman), who is one of Tarantino’s most inspired creations. Drexl is a white guy who thinks he’s Black.
Clarence’s hit plan is a success but leaves a bloody mess, but when he thinks he is grabbing Alabama’s clothes he ends up with what turns out to be a big bag of cocaine. They flee to Hollywood, because he has an actor friend there. But obviously, the Mob are after them, and so the film’s action is set in motion.
True Romance was directed by Tony Scott, who had become friendly with Tarantino (already a fan of Scott’s films, especially Revenge). Scott was given the scripts True Romance and Reservoir Dogs by his friend, but Tarantino himself chose to direct the second one. However, before Scott was confirmed as the director, the exploitation filmmaker William Lustig was attached to True Romance, and even Terry Gilliam was offered it at one point. Scott brought his very distinctive style and visual flair to the project, based on his background in music videos and advertisements, which really complimented the script. He also picked up on the fairy-tale aspect of the film, which changed the ending, and also on the Badlands-esque aspect of the story. I don’t know if either of these were in Tarantino’s head when he wrote the script. Scott had Arquette add narration that was very reminiscent of Sissy Spacek’s in Badlands, and composer Han Zimmer contributed a variation of Carl Orff’s “Gassenhauer” called “You’re So Cool,” which was the musical motif also used in Badlands.
The first couple of films that Tarantino wrote are very centred on scenes that he created, often for his acting classes back when he thought he could be an actor. The most famous scene in True Romance is known as “The Sicilian Speech,” and is a scene between Dennis Hopper, who plays Clarence’s dad, and Christopher Walken, a gangster who is trying to find Clarence and Alabama. Essentially, the scene is based on the fact that as an ex-cop, Hopper knows these guys are going to kill him, and uses the racism of the mobsters to tell them to go fuck themselves by giving them a lesson about how Sicilians are part-Black. It’s a brilliantly written scene, but further elevated by having these two fantastic actors playing it. It shows just how good of an actor Hopper could be when given the opportunity (which sadly became rare as his career went along in the ‘90s and early 2000s). For years, Tarantino said it was the best scene he had ever written, and even in his commentary track he just stops talking and lets the scene just play.
It was a film that really shows off the talents of the next 15 years of Hollywood. True Romance shows a very sweet side to Tarantino, which is always in there but because the stuff he does is generally violent people often don’t pick up on it. The result is a nice romantic comedy just with a lot of blood, guts and Mexican standoffs. It’s an interesting film because as Tarantino has said, the character of Clarence is very much him in his 20s, and that’s a nice time capsule as well.
The film is full of these great little scenes, often including people who aren’t on screen for long. For instance, Brad Pitt plays the stoner roommate of Clarence’s actor friend, turning in the best stoner performance since Spicoli, and Samuel L. Jackson has a great two-minute performance. It was also James Gandolfini’s first major role, and he has an amazing scene with Arquette that was what got him the role of Tony Soprano. Saul Rubinek plays the film producer who they might be selling the cocaine to, and is essentially playing Joel Silver (for whom Scott’s previous film, The Last Boy Scout, was made). Oldman’s performance is also outstanding. It’s a testament to Scott picking really great actors. Scott really got to the heart of the movie, retaining Tarantino’s dialogue but getting away from all the flashbacks and other structural nonsense to tell the story in a straightforward way.
There is a bunch of extras, including a new commentary by Tim Lucas, which I found to be a bit disappointing by his usual high standards as he missed a lot of things out and even mispronounced Michael Lehmann’s name. Other new items are selected scene commentaries with Bronson Pinchot and Saul Rubinek; plus new interviews with the costume designer, co-editor, co-composer and Larry Taylor, who wrote a book about Tony Scott, and Dan Storm, who owns Clarence’s Cadillac and is the co-founder of the True Romance festival that is held at the motel featured in the film. Also present are the old commentaries with Tony Scott, Quentin Tarantino, Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette; a half hour of deleted scenes with commentary by Tony Scott; the original ending as Tarantino wrote it with commentaries by Scott and Tarantino; archival featurettes, short interviews with Scott and some of the cast, trailer and international trailer, US TV spots and an image gallery. Both the director’s cut and theatrical cut are included: the only difference is some trims for violence, so go with the director’s cut. A fat booklet is also part of the package, with new writing on the film by Kim Morgan and Nicholas Clement, a 2008 Maxim oral history featuring interviews with cast and crew, and Edgar Wright’s 2012 eulogy for Tony Scott. There’s also a poster and repro lobby cards. It’s available in either a 4k Ultra Blu-ray or a standard Blu-ray with a 4K master.