Balancing your work and home life can be a challenging task, just ask Harry Tasker. True Lies is an action comedy film that was written and directed by James Cameron in 1994, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the leading role. Instead of the sci-fi world of Terminator, this story focuses on how a man’s life gets turned upside down once his work comes home with him. What we get are wonderful action scenes, great comedy from some surprising actors and an awesome action movie that I think is largely overlooked compared to James Cameron’s best known films.
So, since this film is twenty-five years old, how has it aged? How does it rank with other great action films of the 1990s? What are the best moments and why? And why is this film among my favorite of Schwarzenegger’s collection?
True Lies arrived in theaters on July 15, 1994 and thrilled audiences and critics alike. Schwarzenegger was already a box office star with the likes of The Predator, Total Recall & T2, so True Lies was to be no exception. In this film, Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) is spy who works for the government organization known as “Omega Sector,” an anti-terrorism unit that specializes in thwarting threats against the United States. His wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), however, is under the impression that Harry’s a computer salesman who constantly goes on a “business trip” when he has to go away for a couple days of work. While the movie never explains how Harry has managed to dupe his wife from knowing the truth for all the years of marriage, the idea is quite funny. He always comes home and explains “sales meetings” to his wife that put her to sleep faster than any sleeping pill.
Now this movie is built on action, and it’s certainly great to watch. The bathroom shootout, the debacle on the bridge, the Miami incident and the Florida Keys are just a couple of moments that are simply pure fun. One great surprise about True Lies, however, is its sense of humor. Tom Arnold gives a surprisingly good performance as Harry’s partner and friend, Gib: i.e. the guy who arranges his meetings and sets up the cover stories for Helen to believe. Both Schwarzenegger and Arnold have solid chemistry here and they bounce off each other immensely.
There are a couple of surprises in the film involving its plot. While Harry is busy killing bad guys and saving the world, Helen is home bored with her life. Sure, she has a job, a daughter named Dana (Eliza Dushku) and a friend a work; but Helen seems to want something more out of life. That’s when Simon (Bill Paxton) arrives! He meets Helen by accident and tells her this story that starts to encompass her life while Harry is away on business. She’s not having an affair by any means but once Harry finds out, he believes she is. He tosses away his work assignment and uses government operatives to spy on his wife!
Now, this may sound cruel to some people, but the concept still makes for some funny, over the top moments. They set up a transmitter tracker, audio recording and even a helicopter looming overhead! But, not to be outdone, Harry eventually gets his revenge but not in the sense of killing or hurting someone. It’s hilarious, albeit maybe not the best thing he could’ve done, but I enjoyed it nonetheless! For example, I love the look on Schwarzenegger’s face when he hears Helen telling a story at the dinner table, knowing alongside the audience that she’s lying. I also enjoyed the moment where Harry and his operatives catch Simon and Helen together (oh no!), then proceed to saw off part of his trailer and storm inside guns drawn as if they breached a terrorist hideout.
While this scene is funny, it’s terrifying when looked at from a woman’s perspective. Technically, she’s kidnapped, thrown into an interrogation room and ordered to do something or face jail time. Now, looking back, this is definitely over-the-top and ridiculous and something that I think would rarely happen today. Could you imagine someone in our Government going to that much trouble in order to prove martial infidelity? I think this sequence belongs in the ’90s especially with all the surveillance we have.
There’s a James Bond feel to True Lies and, when you read further into its production, it was actually Schwarzenegger who liked the script and brought it to Cameron’s attention. The film is a remake of the 1991 French film La Totale! and, while that was more funny than serious, True Lies does a good job at balancing the action and comedy together. One actor that I want to mention is Art Malik as the main terrorist. I really enjoyed his performance and, while the film leans a bit into the emotional aftermath of Operation: Desert Storm, True Lies could be seen as a typical Hollywood response to public opinion following that specific incident. Malik plays not just a good villain but a smart one, a man not so much motivated by religious hatred, but rather the unwarranted American invasion into his land. He has a simple reason that justifies his actions, allowing me to respect him as a villain rather than want him to get killed by the hero.
Speaking of feeling Bond-like, I love when Harry and Helen start working together to not only save their marriage, but their lives. One of Curtis’ best moments (besides her striptease) is when she fires a gun at some bad guys and drops it, causing the gun to careen down some stairs while continuously firing. It’s awesome and Curtis delivers a hilarious performance once she learns the truth about her husband. In fact, she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Comedy or Musical.
Over the years, people have been asking if a sequel was ever going to be made. The ending clearly hinted at one, but after the events of September 11, 2001, Cameron stated, “terrorism was no longer something to be taken lightly.” A sequel was planned but got permanently cancelled. Another interesting story about the film’s production comes from the #Metoo movement by actress Eliza Dushku, who was twelve years old when cast as Harry and Helen’s daughter Dana and revealed that she was sexually molested on set by stunt coordinator Joel Kramer. These claims extend to an injury Dushku suffered during a pivotal moment where Dana’s character has to jump onto a harrier jet, presumably in order to keep her quiet. Since she came out about this revelation nearly two years ago, Joel Kramer has issued a denial to the media.
Another ironic twist about the film’s plot in retrospective can be found in widespread media backlash to the 2011 reveal that then-California Governor Schwarzenegger fathered a child with his housekeeper. Scandalous as his infidelity was, one can’t look past the irony of Schwarzenegger previously playing a character who believes his wife is having an affair. Nevertheless, even if you hate Schwarzenegger for his choices, his action status of the 80’s and 90’s cannot be understated. He was the action star of those eras. Despite his unfaithfulness, I still try to set aside personal feelings and just enjoy Schwarzenegger’s older films for what they had to offer.
True Lies is still fun after twenty-five years and is blast no matter when you watch it. From its incredible stunts, action setpieces and A-list cast, True Lies is a true winner for the action genre. Shockingly, this was also the first film to cost $100 million to make! Cameron would later double that budget for his next blockbuster Titanic three years later, which would go on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time! Despite its choice of villains following post-Desert Storm stereotypes, the behind the scenes sexual allegations and questionable idea of a husband surveillancing his wife with government operatives, True Lies is an action film that any diehard Schwarzenegger fan can enjoy.
Just remember one of the best lines said by the man himself…”You’re fired.”