Christian Slater – Clarence Worley
Patricia Arquette – Alabama
Dennis Hopper – Clifford Worley
Val Kilmer – Mentor (Elvis)
Gary Oldman – Drexl Spivey
Christopher Walken – Vincenzo Coccotti
James Gandolfini – Virgil
10 September 1993 (USA)
3 November 1993 (France)
USA: R / USA: Unrated (Director’s Cut) I saw the Unrated version, which just shows longer cuts of violence but no story differences.
Flickchart Global Ranking: 346
Rotten Tomatoes: 92% (Fresh)
True Romance is basically the first screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, although Reservoir Dogs actually came out first. It was directed by Ridley Scott’s troubled and, let’s face it, less talented brother Tony. He gave us Top Gun, Days of Thunder, but also The Hunger which I hear is a good vampire movie.
But TR is basically Tarantino’s show. It has all the classic Tarantino hallmarks: Quirky dialogue about movies (and Elvis), violence, shady characters, non-stop swearing including the “n word,” and Samuel L. Jackson (but only briefly). Speaking of which, what a cast: A young Brad Pitt as a stoner, Gary Oldman as a wigga pimp, the late Dennis Hopper, Tom Sizemore before he became a train wreck, and the always fun Christopher Walken.
The late James Gandolfini is a standout in this movie as one of the bad guys. He does this thing with his face right after punching somebody that I had to go back and watch three times. While I was watching his scenes I thought, “I bet this movie got him the part of Tony Soprano.” Yep, it did.
I won’t get too much into the plot. Boy meets girl, girl turns out to be a hooker, boy pays a friendly visit to girl’s pimp, things don’t proceed as planned, and away we go. I know Tarantino’s use of the n-word in his movies has been very controversial…and rightly so. As a white man, I can’t really speak to its offensiveness, but as a man who was married to an African American and has a mixed daughter, I think I have a few things to say about it.
It’s an ugly word. I’m glad that we now consider it a swear word, a word that we can’t say among decent people. Yes. I said it myself as a youngster in the early 70s. I only remember one time. I was on the bus during a school field trip, we were stopped at a red light and a black man walked by. A bunch of the boys started calling him the name. And I joined in. The bus driver, a white man, pulled over and gave us a long lecture about respecting other people. The other boys didn’t seem to be impressed, but I was. I’ve never forgotten it.
I never heard the word at home. My parents were products of their generation, they were politically and religiously conservative and were certainly not without their attitudes about the changing landscape of the 60s and 70s, but that word nor the ugly sentiment behind it was never in evidence. So why did I use it? I hate to use such a weak excuse as “peer pressure,” and I don’t use it as an excuse. I was wrong. It was sinful. I have confessed to Tania and asked her forgiveness, and I have confessed to the silence and asked that man to forgive me…the sad truth is he probably heard that God damned word so much in his life that it didn’t even register.
I’m not a fighter, but if I ever heard anyone use that word today they would get a lecture. If they used it at Boodles they would get worse. So why do we give Tarantino a pass? I think he’s aware of its hatefulness and uses it to show that the people who use it are flawed. He doesn’t throw it out flippantly like the antiheroes in The French Connection and The Godfather did in the 70s. It’s not an expletive like variations of the word “fuck.”
What follows may be seen as a spoiler and I’ll try to be careful about it, but I think it’s an example of Tarantino’s use of the word and the hatefulness that it brings: In TR he has one character use the word to anger one of the bad guys. This character is facing a slow painful death at the hands of a villain, and he uses it to anger his potential torturer and provoke him into killing him quickly.
If it sounds like I’m giving a pass to somebody whose movies I like, maybe I am. I’m not perfect either.
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
True Romance isn’t as captivating as Tarantino’s later work, and one wonders how much better it could have been if it hadn’t been directed by the same guy that brought us The Last Boy Scout, but it’s well worth watching and I’m giving it a…
A MISPLACED BOY WILL RETURN