TRUE ROMANCE, 1993
Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Bronson Pinchot
A comic book store clerk goes on the lam with his new bride and a suitcase full of cocaine.
This is a story as old as time. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Boy kills girl’s pimp and then runs off with girl and suitcase full of cocaine. Well, maybe not the last part. While “True Romance” is usually defined as a crime drama or thriller, at its heart it is a love story.
The couple, Clarence Worsley (Christian Slater) and Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette), are an amalgamation of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde and Terrence Malick’s couple from “Badlands.” In fact, the film’s main theme (by Hans Zimmer) furthers the comparison to “Badlands” in a blatant homage to Carl Orff’s “Gassenhauer” song from the 1973 film. However, despite the similarities to these films, “True Romance” stands alone as a film that deftly handles comedy, romance, and action.
At a Sonny Chiba triple feature, Clarence and Alabama meet cute as she wanders into the film after it starts and proceeds to spill her popcorn all over him. Clarence is charmed and takes her out to the diner after the film where they engage in playful, first date banter. The numerous pop cultural references (e.g. Elvis, Sonny Chiba) and dialogue are typical of the screenwriter, Quentin Tarantino. (One scene of dialogue particularly stands out: the memorable soliloquy by Clarence’s father Clifford (Dennis Hopper) concerning the origins of Sicilians.
After the diner, they return to Clarence’s apartment where they have sex and Alabama confesses she is a hired prostitute. Nevertheless, the two have fallen in love and decide to get married. When Clarence learns that Alabama is in trouble with her pimp Drexl (played by a nearly unrecognizable Gary Oldman), he takes matters into his own hands and fights for his new love, having been inspired by a pep talk from Elvis. Dishes and a shelf of fish tanks go flying, Drexl and Clarence engage in battle and Drexl is ultimately killed by Clarence. It’s unfortunate that Drexl had to die so early since Oldman revels in his role as a dreadlocked, leopard robe wearing pimp.
Impulsively, Clarence reaches for a suitcase he thinks belongs to Alabama. Discovering that the suitcase is full of cocaine, the two decide to flee to Hollywood and meet up with Clarence’s old friend, Dick (Michael Rappaport). It turns out that the cocaine actually was stolen by Drexl and belongs to Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken). Coccotti and his henchmen (one of whom is named Virgil, played by James Gandolfini) are hot on the couple’s trail.
Once in Hollywood, Clarence meets up with Dick and Dick’s friend, Elliot (Bronson Pinchot). At an amusement park, Clarence tells Elliot about the coke he has available for sale during their slow ascent up a rollercoaster. The scene provides all we need to know about Elliot’s character; he appears to be a cocky preppy on the surface (complete with wayfarers and pastel yellow sweater) yet his reaction to the rollercoaster reveals him to be spineless. Clarence provides some coke to Elliot (who ends up getting pulled over by cops) and back at the hotel Alabama is attacked by Virgil. This battle is very well choreographed and is akin to a dance (albeit a very bloody, gory dance). Mundane objects like a corkscrew, a bottle of hairspray and a cigarette lighter become unlikely weapons.
The ultimate plan is to unload the rest of the coke to a film producer (Saul Rubinek). Dick’s roommate Floyd (Brad Pitt) informs Coccotti’s men of Dick’s whereabouts while the cops are on to the final deal via Elliot’s confession. The final stand off of the film occurs among the cops, a film producer (Saul Rubinek), Elliot, Dick, Clarence and Alabama. Needless to say, the happy couple makes it out alive just barely unscathed. Not only that, but they live happily ever after as well. Tarantino’s original ending had Clarence die at the end with Alabama hitching on a highway. Most of the film is not based in reality, so I had no qualms about this unrealistic happy ending. The movie is like a fairy tale; for a story that’s as old as time, it is the perfect Hollywood ending.
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