Better Late Than Never: A PolyNerdic Retro Review: True Romance (1993)

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Watching this, I was left with one question…how in the blue hell had I missed out on this one?

Sure I was a but a mere child when the movie came out and I didn’t get bit by the Tarantino bug until much later in the 90s but I am admittedly a tiny bit ashamed of myself for never noticing this film’s existence prior to now.

Obviously the image above reveals a very loaded cast, all of whom brought their a-game to the script penned by Quentin Tarantino with direction by Tony Scott.  Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette play the leads, Clarence and Alabama, a young impulsive couple consisting of a lonely guy who works at a comic book store and the call girl hired to entertain him on his birthday.  I call them impulsive because after one night together watching kung-fu movies, a slice of pie at a diner, a late night comic book store visit and a tearful post-coital confession by Alabama about who she is and what she does they end up married.

Not long after Clarence asks about Alabama’s pimp and has a bit of a break with reality as his “Mentor” (played by Val Kilmer in full Elvis garb) shows up and convinces him that he needs to be the one to put the pimp down.  The pimp (portrayed brilliantly by Gary Oldman) doesn’t let Alabama go easily but when the dust settles Clarence walks away with something close to half a million in uncut cocaine.  Clarence and Alabama flee west after a brief visit to his father (played by Dennis Hopper) to ensure the police may be on their tail.

Of course chaos follows in their wake as the mob comes after their stolen drugs.  Christopher Walken turns in one of the best villainous performances of his career (if all too briefly) as the Don as does James Gandolfini as one of his henchmen.  As Clarence and Alabama try to find a buyer for the stolen cocaine in L.A. the mob arrives hot on their trail.  Clarence manages to bullshit his way into a meeting with a big shot producer looking to buy the drugs.  Of course things go wrong leading to the bloody shoot-out climax between multiple parties.

All the leads and supporting cast members are amazing, no argument there, but beyond those performances there are some heavy hitters and recognizable bit players scattered throughout in minor roles that really push this film into greatness.  Names like Michael Rappaport, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Bronson Pinchot and Kevin Corrigan to list a few all show up at various times in the film either as mobsters, cops or in the case of Rappaport and Pinchot as struggling actors that make the necessary connections for Clarence and Alabama.

Even thought Tarantino didn’t direct the film it is very much his movie.  The dialogue is snappy and brilliantly written.  The action is gritty and grounded while very violent.  Arguably this is one of Tarantino’s best paced films, moving right along with it two hour run time never once lagging.

In fact my one complaint with the film is that there simply isn’t enough screen time to go around.  I found with the exception of Slater and Arquette all my favorite performances were tragically short.  Hopper and Walken have one of the best exchanges in whole the film but its the last you see of either of them.  Gandolfini was brilliantly menacing in one specific scene but the rest of his scenes just has him floating around the background as one of Walken’s men.  Samuel L. Jackson literally steps into the movie and right back out.  Even Gary Oldman’s turn as the white pimp who appears to think he is black is not around for very long despite absolutely chewing up the scenery when on camera.

Final Verdict: 8 out of 10

True Romance is a must see for anyone who is a fan of any of the actors, writers or the director involved in the film.  For anyone else (the five of you that are left) it is simply a very, very good film from 23 years back….good lord that makes me feel old.

-Shad (@PolyNerdic)

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