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Case Number 00589

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True Romance

Warner Bros. // 1993 // 121 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Mike Jackson (Retired) // June 16th, 2000

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All Rise...

The Charge

Stealing. Cheating. Killing. Who says romance is dead?

Opening Statement

Ignore the fact that Tony Scott was the director of True Romance. It is a Quentin Tarantino movie through and through.

The Evidence

The world knows Quentin Tarantino for the movies he has directed—Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown. You may not have noticed that he also wrote the screenplays for all three of his movies. Writing was how he got his start in Hollywood. True Romance was the first script he wrote, though it was sold second, after Natural Born Killers. He used the $50,000 he made for the sale of True Romance to begin production on his own film, Reservoir Dogs.

There are certain trademarks to Tarantino films. Frequent pop-culture references, many of them rather obscure. Favorite actors. The hero dies. Character names pop up between movies. Even if he had little involvement other than writing the story, all of these marks are in True Romance.

The directing duties of True Romance were handled by Tony Scott. Tony is the brother of acclaimed director Ridley Scott, the man behind Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. Tony is a respected director in his own right, though his films don't quite rise to the quality level of his brother. He has worked frequently with producer Jerry Bruckheimer on films such as Top Gun, Crimson Tide, and Enemy Of The State.

The hero of True Romance is Clarence (Christian Slater—Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Interview With The Vampire). Not that I want to insult my audience or anything, but Clarence is probably like a lot of you: a film/comic geek. He works in a comic book store. He attends late-night showings of badly dubbed kung fu movies, alone. He can discuss at length topics of extreme triviality, such as the films of Elvis Presley. I'll bet he has an email address like "comicgod1138@aol.com" (that is, if he used a computer; most of Tarantino's characters never left the 1970s).

At a Sonny Chiba triple-feature, Clarence meets a prostitute named Alabama (Patricia Arquette—Stigmata, Bringing Out The Dead). Of course, she doesn't tell him she's a prostitute until after they go back to his place for some no-charge bump-and-tickle. Inexplicably, the two get married the next day. Within a few days, Alabama tells Clarence about her pimp, a mean mammajamma named Drexl (Gary Oldman—Léon, The Fifth Element). Acting more in the fashion of his movie heroes than his personality, Clarence boldly walks into Drexl's house to tell him he's losing his girl. Things go badly, and Clarence ends up killing Drexl and making off with a suitcase he thinks contains her clothes. It doesn't…it's full of uncut cocaine.

Faced with the opportunity of a very nice payoff, Clarence and Alabama head off to California. Clarence's friend Dick (Michael Rapaport—Mighty Aphrodite, Deep Blue Sea) is an actor and has connections with Hollywood money men. Dick arranges a meeting with producer Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek—Wall Street, Dick). Naturally, things go horribly awry, and only through their undying love can the two lovers survive.

The credits of True Romance read like a Who's Who list. Sadly, most of them are only in the movie for one or two scenes, often before they are killed. The most memorable are Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, Speed) as Clarence's father and Christopher Walken (Pulp Fiction, The Prophecy) as a crime boss. The two veteran actors play off of each other to perfection. Though I can't repeat much of it here, their scene together will live as one of the classic dialogues in movie history. Other actors include James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), Anna Levine (The Crow), Val Kilmer (Top Gun), Chris Penn (Reservoir Dogs), Bronson Pinchot (Perfect Strangers), Brad Pitt (Fight Club), and Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan).

In a rarity for a Warner Brothers release, True Romance contains a non-anamorphic transfer. It is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and full-frame, on opposite sides of the disc. The widescreen transfer is a bit on the grainy side, but is otherwise excellent. The movie has a drab, monochromatic look in the early scenes that take place in Detroit. Once the film moves out west, it is rich and vibrant, and the DVD captures it nicely. The picture is sharp and detailed, though it could have benefited from anamorphic enhancement. Audio is presented in Dolby Surround. Fidelity is good, but I'm rather spoiled now by 5.1 channel mixes.

The only extra is a theatrical trailer, but you do get an added benefit with the DVD that you'll be hard-pressed to find on VHS: it's an unrated director's cut of the film. True Romance was heavily cut due to its excessive violence, particularly the hotel room brawl between Patricia Arquette and James Gandolfini. The excised scenes have been restored to their bloody glory.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It would certainly be nice if Warner Brothers revisited True Romance for a special edition release. Considering how brief many of the cameos are, I'm certain there must have been more footage of these performances. Plus, the film could benefit from a digital 5.1 remix and a commentary track.

Closing Statement

Even if the disc is under-powered, True Romance is worth adding to the collection of any Quentin Tarantino fan. It's an entertaining action romp with just enough brains to rise above your standard cinematic drivel.

Has Tom Sizemore ever made a movie where he didn't die by the last reel? Heat, Saving Private Ryan, Strange Days, Striking Distance…he dies in all of them. There may be more of his movies I haven't seen where he's killed too.

The Verdict

Brat Pitt is sentenced to portraying more stoned-out-of-their-gourd characters, just because the judge enjoyed his performance so much. Warner Brothers is encouraged to revisit the title in the near future. Court dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 75
Extras: 10
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Unrated
• Action
• Crime

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer

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