True Romance: Tony Scott’s Film, Based on Tarantino’s Script

Tony Scott’s new film, True Romance, based on a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, is meant to be the ultimate cult romantic picture. An explosive mix of razor-sharp wit, gritty action, and gratuitous violence, more than anything else it’s a postmodern love story–a quintessential film for American youth of the 1990s.

True Romance takes a hip look at both the sunny and dark sides of the American Dream of mobility and success. Clarence (Christian Slater), a lonely youngster, meets Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a hooker who was arranged as a birthday gift for him, in a movie house that shows Kung Fu pictures. Head over heels in love–and in tune with our conservative times–they declare monogamy and get married after spending one night together.

A call girl for only four days, Alabama is actually a good and sincere woman. Determined to end her dubious past, Clarence goes to her pimp (Gary Oldman) to collect her belongings, but ends up brutally killing him. He then rushes home, anxious to hear Alabama’s response to his action. Stunned, she looks him in the eye and says, “I think what you did was….so romantic!” This crazy exchange defines the logic and noirish ambience of the entire film.

The suitcase Clarence brings back doesn’t contain Alabama’s clothes, but valuable Mob contraband, which they decide to take from Detroit to Los Angeles. They plan to sell their booty and begin a new life, but with the gangsters and police after them, twists and turns ensue. A tale of unlikely lovers whose whirlwind romance propels them into dangerous games of high-stakes negotiations and high-speed adventure, True Romance ends with the couple in Mexico, 6 years later, playing with their son on the beach.

Self-referential, True Romance has a comic strip sensibility and comic strip characters; Clarence even works at a comic book store. We are not supposed to take anything in the movie too seriously, including its excessive violence. The humor is dry and cynical. One of the “amusing” moments comes when Christopher Walken empties his gun into Clarence’s father (Dennis Hopper), then coolly observes, “I haven’t killed anybody since 1984.”

True Romance is the latest version of amour fou, or love on the run. The American fascination with this phenomenon goes as far back as Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937) and Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1949). But the quintessential work that revived and redefined the genre is Bonnie and Clyde (1967), a film that glamorized its gangsters to the point of making them mythic heroes.