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The Films Of Tony Scott: A Retrospective

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist November 10, 2010 at 7:49AM

One thing we know for certain: Tony Scott is bold to the point of absurdity.
10

"Revenge” (1990)
A bleak, violent, sexy-as-hell thriller, "Revenge" is one of Tony Scott's true masterpieces. Since "Revenge" has a number of truly surprising twists and turns, we're going to go light on the plot specifics, but will say that Kevin Costner is an ex-aviator who goes to Mexico at the request of his old friend (played by Anthony Quinn, with his "menace-o-meter" turned up to 11). Said friend has a young wife (Madeleine Stowe) who Costner just cannot resist. What follows is a brutal revenge tale that feels, in many superficial and spiritual ways, like Scott's lone Western. Scott has an unflinching eye when it comes to both sexuality and violence, which turned off a lot of viewers when it was initially released (and befuddled the film's producers). In the years since, Scott has constructed a more streamlined "director's cut" for home video, which, surprisingly, comes in at about 20 minutes shorter than the theatrical exhibition. There are a number of reasons to watch and adore "Revenge," from Costner's conflicted performance to Jack Nitzsche's score and the sun-bleached cinematography from Jeffrey Kimball. "Revenge" is Tony Scott's most mournful and humane story, a film that is stylistically admirable but, above all else, emotionally engaging. The fearlessness with which Scott stages the film's finale will leave you breathless; an unheralded masterwork and the most compelling argument against stuck up cineastes who claim the director is "just some flashy hack." [A-]

"Days of Thunder” (1990)
What was billed as an epic re-teaming of the "Top Gun" principals (producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, star Tom Cruise) was a financial and critical boondoggle. But that still doesn't mean it shouldn't be canonized, at the very least for introducing the phrase "monkey fucking a football" into our impressionable young lives. And despite its tarnished image, it's a movie that's just as interesting as "Top Gun," if not more so. Watch, for instance, how when faced with the relative starkness of the NASCAR racetrack, Tony Scott's love of background motion translates into a hypnotic fascination with the flags that line the track. Also, Scott's love of masculine rivalry is taken to an extreme level in the competitive relationship between Cruise's Cole Trickle (titter) and Michael Rooker's Rowdy Burns (titter again). These two guys can't wheel down a hospital hall or drive to a shared meeting without some kind of high-octane race breaking out. At some point you expect them to free their penises from their racing getups and just compare size (probably, knowing Scott's proclivity, in a room filled with atmospherically gauzy smoke). What's striking, watching this in the post-"Talladega Nights" climate, is how strictly Adam McKay's surrealist racing comedy sticks to the "Days of Thunder" structure. And what's more, "Nights" co-star John C. Reilly has a small role in Scott's film, making him the undisputed king of NASCAR cinema. [B]

"The Last Boy Scout” (1991)
Friday night’s a great night for football in Tony Scott’s thriller. Involving a tangled conspiracy with elements of score-fixing, political scandal, murder and pigskin, “The Last Boy Scout” ranks highly amongst action pictures of that era. Part of that comes from Shane Black's almost-too-witty script, showcasing a universe where every tense life-or-death situation can be defeated with a punch and a quip. And don’t be misinformed: this is one quip-heavy picture-- a profane, misogynist noir with a pitch black cynicism that showcases characters trying to maintain some semblance of sanity in a world where they remain at the mercy of an overwhelming patriarchy. Bruce Willis, all squinty sarcasm, is matched blow-for-blow by a game Damon Wayans, neither character reduced to buddy movie, comic relief or tough guy archetypes, but both inclined to comment on them. To his credit, Scott hasn’t made a film half as funny since. [B]

"True Romance” (1993)
Were it not for Quentin Tarantino’s excellent screenplay for “True Romance,” in many ways his own version of Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” (hammered home by Hans Zimmer’s riffing on its use of Gassenhauer for the theme), this writer would be unable to champion anything in Tony Scott’s oeuvre. His style, especially from “Enemy of the State” and on, is akin to what Baz Luhrmann does. It simply grates on the senses, punishes the brain with relentlessness, and too often feels like smoke and mirrors, as if Scott never trusts his material enough to let the camera just capture a moment. Not so with “True Romance,” thankfully made well before his move into gonzo stylistics. The pairing of screenwriter and director here (which didn’t work so well for Richard Kelly in “Domino,” unfortunately) is a good fit, with a plethora of memorable characters and dialogue, most notably Brad Pitt’s honey bear bong-smoking pothead and the legendary face off between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken (“You got me in a vendetta kinda mood”). The original ending was changed by Scott, and for the better; Clarence (Christian Slater) died in the end of Tarantino’s script, which wasn’t necessary. Proof that Scott has the ability to make wise directorial choices, if only he’d get back to that instead of all the flashy, annoying bullshit he’s so enamored with these days. [A-]

This article is related to: Films, Feature, Tony Scott, Retrospective, Features


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