I Like You, Clarence. Always Have. Always Will: True Romance (1993)

This movie has everything going for it, a Tarantino script, poetic fight scenes and a veritable who's who of 90's actors.  One could quickly imagine this concoction failing miserably, but luckily, the film is treated with finesse in the hands of Hollywood big shot Tony Scott.  It takes an impossible storyline and makes it ever so believable, even though such a story could not exist in a reality outside of cinema.  It is fun, fast and intense and has all the sustenance one would expect from a film involving Quentin Tarantino.  However, what is perhaps most surprising about this film is that it is that Christian Slater's parts are enjoyable, an occurrence that seems impossible in many of his other films.  It is hip, over-the-top and celebratory of a culture from days gone by, it is what a blockbuster popcorn and soda movie should be enthralling to the point of inducing catharsis amongst its viewers.  True Romance is a film that you will become consumed by and not realize you have been watching a film until the credits begin to roll.  A contemporary classic if ever one existed, True Romance is just plain enjoyable.

The narrative, as one comes to expect with Tarantino, is garnished with hipster cultural references and healthy doses of kung-fu films, particularly those of the great Sonny Chiba.  Furthermore, the films characters are inextricably attached to these references, most notably the protagonist Clarence (Christian Slater) who fancies himself a modern day hybrid of Chiba and Elvis that dons Hawaiian shirts and a lax attitude to the world around him.  Clarence appears content to waste his days away employed at a comic book shop until he is brought into a seemingly chance encounter with Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a call girl hired by Clarence's boss to show him a good time on his birthday.  It seems too good to be true, and almost is, until Alabama confesses to harboring legitimate feelings for Clarence, causing her to instantly reject her job as a call girl.  This is easier said than done particularly since her pimp is a faux thug by the name of Drexel (Gary Oldman).  The threat of Drexl does not disturb Clarence, however, and he takes it upon himself to personally kill Drexl.  In a rather comedic moment, Clarence confronts Drexel, ultimately killing him and running off with a suitcase that he believes to contain Alabama's personal belongings.  Clarence quickly discovers that the suitcase actually contains a very large amount of cocaine, something to the tune of a million dollars worth.  Realizing both the problems and possibilities of his new acquisition Clarence contacts his father for advice and then heads out to Los Angeles, where he believes he can get rid of the cocaine quickly for a decent amount of money.  The rest of the film sporadically deals with Clarence as he tries to unload his drugs.  The film includes cameos from Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson, and James Gandolfini amongst others, all culminating in a gorgeous shoot out that is both obnoxiously grandiose and minimalist simultaneously.  It is an action film nerds dream and is pretty much flawless.

I recently finished reading bell hooks' Reel to Real: Race Sex and Class at the Movies and was thoroughly impressed by hooks' concise, yet astute criticisms of many of Hollywood's contemporary films, particularly her brief discussion about Pulp Fiction.  In an piece titled "Cool Cynicism" hooks points out the issues of problematic images in the films of Tarantino, particularly demeaning images of racial stereotypes, homosexuality and spousal abuse.  In Tarantino's films, he makes it a note to state that these are problematic, but rarely are these issues dealt with.  In fact, the cool characters often only receive slaps on the wrist for their bad actions.  Take Marcellus Wallace for example, he is a very bad person, yet his stature and bad as a motherfucker attitude reward him with survival and the ability to castrate his homosexual pursuer.  He is chastised for his negative actions, but in no way reprimanded.  The same case can be made for True Romance, in so much as the film core focuses on the transferring of a very large amount of illegal drugs.  True Romance is only concerned with people who legitimately benefit from drug trading, the dealers and big wigs.  It, with the exception of a few black dealers who die, ignores the lower class individuals who are victimized by drug wars.  By doing so Tarantino's script once again wags a finger at drug use, but fails to note the truly devastating effects of the drug trade, for a better expose on this issue check out Steven Soderbergh's Traffic.  Sure most of the characters involved in the trafficking die, but Clarence and Alabama survive living their life out with the help of a large amount of dirty money.  In Tarantino's eyes, they used corruption to their advantage, which is great for them, but still sucks for those being dealt unseen damage by said corruption.  It is a classic case of cinematic cynicism, masked in a cool and engrossing narrative.

All things considered, this is certainly one of the best movies released in 1993.  The film is a bit dated at times, but still has a timelessness that will make viewers instantly enamored with its wry dialogue and cultural fluidity.  I recommend getting a copy and making a viewing night of it with friends.

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