We’re not entirely sure why director Tony Scott took his own life. There was a rumor involving inoperable brain cancer, but his family has said he did not have that condition, nor any other major medical problems they knew of. Still, a great light has gone out in the world of cinematic storytelling. While some filmmakers play it safe, Tony Scott wasn’t afraid to go odd places and do interesting things.
Take True Romance, for example. An ambling and pulpy tale of drugs, sleaze, the road, and (yes) romance, he presents the quirks of the characters and the odd circumstances of the story as baldly as possible. While it’s clearly a Tarantino script, Scott’s direction actually reigns in that manic energy and channels it in such a way that it mounts towards the climax, rather than spewing all over the place (e.g. Kill Bill). With a great cast, interesting score, and a whip-fast pace, it’s a fun little movie sure to be enjoyed.
Crimson Tide, along with Hunt for Red October, actually made me consider a career as a submariner. What could have been a military hardware wankfest in the hands of Michael Bay becomes a tense, character-driven thriller on the specter of nuclear war in the modern age. Despite being made in 1995, the story is set up so that the villain in a foreign land with weapons of mass destruction is ultimately superfluous. The film focuses on the isolated nature of these sailors, and the tension between Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington virtually crackles through the air. It’s a fantastic film, one of my favorites, and it really cemented in my mind a deep-seated loathing for James Gandolfini. I’m sure he’s a decent guy in person, I’ve just hated every single character he’s ever played.
Speaking of Denzel, Scott directed him in two other films I’ve seen and enjoyed: Man on Fire and Deja Vu. You don’t often see movies set in Mexico City, but that setting is perfect for Man on Fire. Instead of tension, this time we see a rapport building between Denzel’s character and Dakota Fanning, who is shockingly good in this film. Once the second act begins after the slow-burn build of the first, it’s an edge-of-your-seat ride. The things Denzel’s character does to get what he wants are fairly brutal and thorough. Before Taken, Man on Fire was the go-to template for films of honorable if flawed men doing whatever it takes for the sake of an innocent child.
Finally, there’s Deja Vu. It may not be Scott’s strongest film, but it’s still compelling in its storytelling and fascinating in its premise. A detective drama that becomes a treatise on time travel is certainly not something you see every day. While it has its flaws and hiccups, the concept is sold incredibly well, between Denzel’s straightforward approach to the problem to Adam Goldberg’s flippant and funny remarks on the super-science to Paula Patton’s performance, which is mostly just a presence for the first half of the film. I think it’s a bit underrated, and while it’s not perfect, it’s still a good film.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Top Gun so I can’t really comment on that. I also need to watch Domino, Enemy of the State, Unstoppable, and The Hunger. I know, I know, my vampire cred is going to suffer because I haven’t yet seen The Hunger front to back, but trust me, I’m definitely going to correct that. I can’t think of a better way of remembering Tony Scott than enjoying his films as much as I can, now and for the rest of my life.