True Romance 1992 *****


The late Tony Scott was something of a cinematic powerhouse, whose work was consistently underrated; a note on his Wikipedia page says that after The Hunger, he stopped reading the vitriolic reviews his film inspired. Most of these critics are long gone now, but Scott’s canon endures; hits like Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State are all better than average blockbusters, but his other works are remarkable in their consistency; Revenge, The Last Boy Scout, Man on Fire or Unstoppable would be highlights in any director’s resume, whether they appeased the public or not. His best film was a flop; 1992’s True Romance gave Scott a super-hot script, and he did it proud; Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are ideal as Clarence and Alabama, young newly-weds who scram from snowy Detroit to sunny LA after he romantically murders her pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman under dreadlocks and prosthetics). All kinds of talent are shown to their best advantage here, from Bronson Pinochet’s coke-addled flunky to Brad Pitt’s avuncular stoner Floyd via James Gandolfini’s memorable thug. Scott creates the requisite tension, but also creates two vibrant, dynamic worlds for his characters to inhabit. And at the centre is one of cinema’s greatest scenes; a confrontation between Clarence’s cop father Clifford (Dennis Hopper) and mobster Cocotti (Christopher Walken). Two experienced actors with some great dialogue; Scott gets the best out of them as Cocotti’s threats raise Clifford’s awareness of his predicament. From the moment Clifford accepts his last cigarette, the dynamics of the scene change and it becomes a meditation on defiance in the face of death. Ridley Scott has given interviews regarding the family history of cancer which throw some light on his brother’s suicide; Scott’s elegiac handling of True Romance’s highpoint throws further illumination. Unfairly derided as a man who placed style over content, Tony Scott was in the deep end while most directors were just splashing in the shallows.

Brainstorm 1983 ***


An ideal double bill with 2014’s Transcendence, Brainstorm is a strange and somewhat prescient sci-fi film from Douglas Trumbull, taking his only post-Silent Running shot as director after managing the ground-breaking effects for 2001 and Close Encounters. Hampered by the death of star Natalie Wood during production, Brainstorm has an original conceit; a device which allows participants to experience events happening to someone else; experiencing death second-hand is the ultimate goal. Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) has been developing the machine, but fears the intervention of the military industrial complex, and after the death of his wife Lillian (Wood), goes on the run with the machine. The focus on mortality sits uneasily with the real-life tragedy of Wood’s death, but Brainstorm has a good deal of ideas to play with, with Trumbull creating visceral scenes of visual flair to suggest how the machine would work, interspersed with a sinister conspiracy drama. Brainstorm is an interesting failure; as with many sci-fi films that attempt to consider serious themes, the plotting gets in the way of the more profound meanings aspired to, but the intent is admirable.