The 90’s is one of the finest decades of filmmaking to date. Between the constant Spielberg and Scorsese hits, the increasing quality of action films, blockbuster dramas, and movies from rising directors like David Fincher and the Coen Brothers, there’s enough great content to keep you on the couch for many lifetimes. However, with all of that going on, there is a slew of overlooked 90’s movies that are debatably just as quality as the aforementioned classics.
When discussing 90’s cinema, Quentin Tarantino must be mentioned. While he had some of the decades most important hits in ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction,’ we want to examine one of his most overlooked works, ‘True Romance.’ Though directed by Tony Scott, Tarantino mans the script for what is easily one of his most idiosyncratic films of all time. The dialogue, the characters, and the plot make this not only one of his most essential films, but one of the truly pure pulp movies from the 90’s.
Given that Tarantino and his style help embody the essence of the 90’s, the aspects of ‘True Romance’ that highlight him also highlight 90’s indie filmmaking. What is essentially meant by this is that 90’s indie movies, like ‘Swingers,’ are so charming because the director’s passion for filmmaking is evident throughout. These are directors who didn’t wait to get a bigger budget, but made their dreams come true from all given resources. Tarantino is among the most passionate in all of his films but in this early work, it’s constantly evident just how much he wants to express his love for the art. More importantly, he aims to celebrate the freedom that comes with this love. Pulp stories are underrated as one of the most pure forms of storytelling, and are unfortunately more of a thing of the past. Given Tarantino’s deep passion, his writing for ‘True Romance’ makes for one of the last pure pulp movies out there.
Anybody who is familiar with what Tarantino is like as a person will immediately recognize that the main character, Clarence Worley, is based off of him. Clarence is a fanatic about his passions, working at a comic book store, gushing about his idol Elvis Presley, and spending his birthday watching back-to-back-to-back martial arts films. Through the casting of Christian Slater, Tarantino modestly selects a more personable, handsome, and badass version of himself that likely matches how he’d always wanted to see himself as a movie character. It should surprise no fans that Tarantino’s fantasy version of himself ends up killing a pimp and running away with a call girl to sell the pimp’s coke in Hollywood.
With an already very Tarantino plot, the casting is what really drives the whole production home. Patricia Arquette takes the female lead alongside Slater. Along the way, we get Michael Rapaport, James Gandolfini, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Gary Oldman, Bronson Pinchot, Val Kilmer, Samuel L. Jackson, and a hilariously improvised role from Brad Pitt. The standout supporting performances come from Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper, sharing one single scene which is easily one of the greatest moments of Tarantino’s career.
The dialogue is as ambitious as the plot, with each interaction simple at first but expertly challenging expectations. Though Tarantino places the characters in plenty of familiar situations for moviegoers, no matter how predicted the end of each situation is, the path of getting there is never conventional. The best example of this comes from the scene with Walken and Hopper. Though we know what’s coming in the end of the scene from the moment it begins, we could never expect what happens in between.
In pure Tarantino boundary pushing fashion, this movie is no slouch with its bloodshed. However, we must give the credit to Tony Scott here. Though penned by Tarantino, Scott’s keen sense for action brings each scene into brilliant fruition. In the film’s fairly high body count, almost no death is clean. Those shot in the head receive many shots to the head while others will get beaten with a toilet lid before being stabbed with a corkscrew. As for the climax, oh man, you just have to see for yourself. Though gratuitous, its a celebration of expression in film, a release of film geek fantasy from one of the most dedicated brains to the whole medium.
This movie is a win for film lovers all around. It’s an odd but beautiful take on living life to its fullest without taking conventional routes. Clarence never seems to have much going for him, but he embraces where he’s at and is always seen with a smile. Through Clarence, Tarantino and Scott are screaming to the audience members that are just like them to go out, take (safer) risks, and love life for what it is. With inspiration from western and gangster pulp films swirled with brilliant creativity, it is not only an important staple of Tarantino’s writing, but a pure piece of the 90’s and a final staple in the pulp cinema. If you’re a fan of Tarantino’s movie or love the simple charms of a nice Hollywood story, this is directly up your alley.
While you’re here, we’d also like to plug ‘Natural Born Killers.’ This movie is directed by Oliver Stone but also scripted by Tarantino. It is a very different movie with some bold similarities, but anybody interested in ‘True Romance’ is in for a treat with ‘Natural Born Killers.’ Go out, see these movies, and let us know what you think!