True Romance

(1993) *** R
119 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Director: Tony Scott. Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman.

/content/films/3425/1.jpgMorally, what goes on in True Romance is indefensible. Intellectually, it's appalling. As a romance, it's sick and twisted at best. But its author doesn't care about any of that, except in the sense that he gleefully enjoys getting under your skin. For True Romance is one of Quentin Tarantino's earliest scripts (basically his first), and Quentin Tarantino really only cares about one thing: cool. In fact, when his young lovers on the lam think about uttering those three little words, they're "You're so cool." All of this makes True Romance a hall-of-fame guy's movie (as the gorily action-packed, guy's equivalent of a romantic comedy, it can be fairly called a "dick flick"). Even supporting actor Brad Pitt—who plays a comically disconnected stoner—said the film is "like a young guy’s wet dream."

Though True Romance was directed by Tony Scott, it gets more comical the more you know about its writer. The restless, movie-crazed former video store clerk basically wrote his wet dream: restless, movie-nerdy comic-shop clerk Clarence "meets cute" with sexy Alabama (Patricia Arquette) at a Sonny Chiba triple feature, chased with movie chat over pie ("A girl after my heart," he says). Tarantino knows it's too good to be true: the twist is that Alabama's a brand-new prostitute hired by Clarence's boss to get him laid for his birthday (and 1993 was still in the good old days when movie stars got naked for their art—well, for love scenes—well, for Tony Scott). The two fall in love, and in most movies, there'd be wacky complications about the difficulty of extracting Alabama from her gangland bosses. Those are here, but they come with spurting blood and open wounds the size of barn doors (surprisingly, Hans Zimmer plays against the action and turns in one of his lightest and most melodic scores).

Everyone in True Romance is obsessed with cool movies, and the machismo that comes with them. The picture opens with Clarence (twice) delivering a monologue about Jailhouse Rock, which serves as an excuse to have a spectral Elvis (as played by a barely glimpsed Val Kilmer) appear to Clarence as...what? A ghost? His conscience? A schizophrenic hallucination? Never mind, we're off to see more cool actors. Scott assembles a macho '90s ensemble eclipsed only by Glengarry Glen Ross: aside from Slater, Kilmer and Pitt (who makes a classic line of "Don't condescend me, man. I'll fucking kill you, man"), True Romance serves up rising stars Samuel L. Jackson (as a hood) and James Gandolfini (as an Italian hood), pairs bad boys Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore as a bad-cop/bad-cop team, pits Christopher Walken as a Sicilian mobster against Dennis Hopper as Slater's ex-cop dad (in a daring scene of deceptively casual racism), and casts Gary Oldman as a a white pimp who thinks he's black. Add Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapaport, and Saul Rubinek in juicy supporting roles, and we're in acting heaven. The monologues—oh, the monologues!

/content/films/3425/2.jpg"In my movie, darling," Clarence tells Alabama, "you get top billing." True Romance is pretty obviously a half-assed Wild at Heart. Still, if you can get on Tarantino's wavelength—which even Scott doesn't quite, by seeming to take the story a little too much at face value (and imposing a screenwriter-argued romantic fadeout)—and shut off your moral, intellectual, and romantic centers, Tarantino kinda wins. As a postmodern lark, True Romance is sort Cue the Mexican standoff.

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Aspect ratios: 2.4:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 5/26/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

True Romance comes to Blu-ray in its unrated Director's Cut version. The colors are certainly more vibrant than in any previous home-video version, and there is more detail discernable in the frame than in the previous DVDs. Still, the image is relatively soft and dingy compared to films of comparable age, and the attempts to mask that fact have led to some digital artifacting. The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio may not be reference material, but it can be considered a definitive, hi-def rendering of this soundtrack. Like the concurrent re-release of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, this one replicates a Warner 2-Disc DVD Special Edition pretty much note for note, so the double-dip is questionable for owners of this title. Those who are investing for the first time should enjoy the budget price and take the plunge.

The only extra not ported over from the 2-Disc DVD edition is accessibility of storyboards during playback of the feature. Everything else returns, beginning with commentary by actors Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, commentary by director Tony Scott, and commentary by screenwriter Quentin Tarantino. It's a chatty movie, so it's appropriate to get so much commentary. Tarantino is the king of gab, though, so head to that track first for a spirited rendition of the lowdown.

Eleven "Deleted and Extended Scenes" (29:19, SD) come with optional commentary by Scott, and an "Alternate Ending" (6:22, SD) comes with optional commentary by Scott and optional commentary by Tarantino (again, Tarantino delivers the more interesting commentary).

We also get what should probably be a more common feature on home video: Selective Actors Commentary by "Dennis Hopper" (11:15, SD), "Val Kilmer" (4:08, SD), "Brad Pitt" (5:54, SD) and "Michael Rapaport" (34:50, SD). This appropriate approach for an ensemble movie allows the actors to chat over montages of their scenes.

The film's "Original Featurette" (5:37, SD) from 1993 includes brief interviews with Scott, Slater, Arquette, Gary Oldman and Christopher Walken.

"Behind the Scenes" (5:34, SD) likewise includes interviews with Scott, Oldman, Slater, and Hopper. It's also an "interactive featurette" in that a pop-up icon allows access to further behind-the-scenes clips.

Last up is the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:08, SD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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