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The Films Of Tony Scott: A Retrospective

by The Playlist Staff
November 10, 2010 7:49 AM
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"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-]

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  • Erik McClanahan | November 11, 2010 5:32 AMReply

    Yeah, not much of a fan either. Kinda surprised how good we treated the director with this feature. But I love the debate. No love for Tarantino's theory on "Top Gun" from "Sleep With Me"?

  • Vincent | November 11, 2010 5:17 AMReply

    I'm happy to see the praise for Spy Game.
    It is under-seen for sure and deserving of at least a B. Not so sure about Deja Vu and Pelham 123.
    And Beat the Devil was a sign of craziness to come.

  • Kathleen Walsh | November 11, 2010 3:33 AMReply

    You gotta love Tony just for his sheer audacity. Yes, sometimes it's totally overdone and seizure-inducing (do not sit too close to the screen in "Domino") but when it's good, it's just great moviemaking that screams CINEMA!!! The balls on this guy...

  • kellydamour | November 11, 2010 1:05 AMReply

    For a long time, I thought your writers had nearly impeccable taste in film. The praise for so many Tony Scott movies, though, is giving me pause ...

    Still, keep up the good work.

  • Emily | November 11, 2010 12:19 AMReply

    Are you kidding? Domino was awesome and Keira Knightley was one of the best things about the movie. She kicked ass!

  • ThePlaylist | November 10, 2010 10:06 AMReply

    there's a lot of differing opinions internally on this one, but hey, that's healthy debate. I for one and am not much of a Scott fan.

  • Mike_M | November 10, 2010 10:04 AMReply

    Man i love Domino, one of my fav Tony Scott films... also, not way Top Gun is an A...

  • Phil Clement | November 10, 2010 9:16 AMReply

    I've long been a fan of Tony's, but then he's always made films that made my eye twitch. In fact I think he's actually brought on small seizures but overall I loved Enemy, Tide (loved Tide), Pelham and Romance. Hey, my kid loves everything he's ever made, but you probably knew that already. Can't wait to see Unstoppable.

  • actionman | November 10, 2010 9:02 AMReply

    Top Gun is most assuredly an A-level film. On any number of levels.

  • bonzob | November 10, 2010 8:44 AMReply

    I thought I was a big Tony Scott apologist -- apparently not as much as you guys. Cop II the best in the series? The Hunger "one of the best vampire films ever"? Top Gun an A-level film?

    But worst of all.. Days of Thunder is a B? Tom Cruise plays a character named Cole Trickle. COLE TRICKLE. He has a wheelchair race! And it's not played for laughs. That thing is a straight up D at best.

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