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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

"Crimson Tide” (1995)
Yes, "Crimson Tide" is a Tony Scott film, very much so. But it may be remembered these days, at least to the obsessive film geeks of the world, for the contributions of uncredited co-writer Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino, a longtime Scott fan, was called in to punch up the dialogue after "True Romance" on this certifiably great submarine thriller that pits Denzel Washington against the power-mad captain played by Gene Hackman. The scenes that bare Tarantino's mark might as well be highlighted in blinking neon lights: an early scene in the film where the various crew members talk about their favorite submarine movies (in a wonderful bit of meta-textual knowingness); a discussion about which version of the Silver Surfer is better; and Hackman rattling on endlessly about different breeds of horses, a speech which has the flow of the famous "Sicilian" speech in the pair's earlier collaboration. As far as submarine movies go, "Crimson Tide" does a sturdy job: Scott choreographs the suspense sequences brilliantly (aided by claustrophobic cinematography by Dariusz Wolski) and emphasizes that the close-knit camaraderie that forms underneath the ocean can just as quickly curdle into something quite dangerous. It's also worth noting Scott's often unheralded genius at casting. Tucked beneath and around the cramped submarine sets are actors like James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Zahn, and Ryan Phillippe. The ominous score by Hans Zimmer, while not quite as enthralling as Basil Poledouris' work for "The Hunt for Red October," was still enough to net the composer a Grammy for his work. [B+]

"The Fan” (1996)
Say this for Tony Scott’s laughable suspense thriller: it improves upon the tawdy, overblown Peter Abrahams source material. Credit goes to the hyper-caffeinated director, who clearly knows how to mock the dead-serious atmosphere of the sports media, with Ellen Barkin as the overheated Ahab-with-a-notepad going after star athlete Wesley Snipes. Where it slips up is the portrayal of psycho fan Robert De Niro, who slowly sees his life unraveling as his favorite player struggles to acclimate to his new surroundings. As superstar Bobby Rayburn, Snipes is both a believable athlete and a credible dramatic presence, struggling under the weight of Barry Bonds-level expectations. But Scott’s attempts to get into De Niro’s inner turmoil by switching filters and blaring Nine Inch Nails on the soundtrack aren't exactly on the level of "Taxi Driver". “The Fan” remains a curiosity in that it revealed Scott’s strengths in capturing the insane milieu of professional sports in lieu of insight into the mind of the average man. [C]

"Enemy of the State” (1998)
Political thrillers don’t get much more live-wire and jacked-up than “Enemy of the State,” a shiny, cool-blue, lightning-fast “man-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time” movie which served as a critical and box-office comeback for Tony Scott after the drubbing he took for “The Fan”. Mixing “The Conversation” with “The Parallax View” and adding in a few terrific car and foot chases with some stylish shoot-outs, “Enemy of the State” was the fifth collaboration between Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and marked a more dramatically serious trend for the producer (films that immediately followed 'Enemy' included “Remember the Titans,” “Black Hawk Down,” and “Veronica Guerin”). Will Smith, fresh off the mega-success of "Independence Day," was perfectly cast as a hot-shot lawyer who inadvertently comes into possession of a video showing an evil U.S. Senator (Jon Voight, appropriately oily) masterminding a murder. Smith teams up with a reluctant ex-spook (Gene Hackman, terrific as always, doing a riff on his immortal character from “The Conversation”) and goes head-to-head with the NSA in an effort to clear his name. The pacing of “Enemy of the State” is unbelievable as images and plot are hurled at the viewer. But what’s amazing about that approach is that everything can be followed logically and coherently despite the frenetic nature of the filmmaking style. Scott, working with cinematographer Daniel Mindel (who also shot Scott’s aesthetically groundbreaking “Domino”), put cameras in every corner of the room in “Enemy of the State,” mixing various film speeds and stocks with an overall high-contrast, desaturated visual palette, resulting in a film that feels icy-hot to the touch. The camera never stops moving, never slows down, and never gets tired; it’s energetic filmmaking to the max, especially when set to the rhythms of Harry Gregson-Williams’ pulsating musical score. By the time the film reaches its thoroughly clever finale, in which Scott even cribs from himself (“True Romance,” anyone?!), you can’t help but feel out of breath and exhilarated. [B+]

"Spy Game” (2001)
What might be considered Tony Scott's last "straight" movie (read: not batshit), "Spy Game" is an unbelievably compelling tale of a retiring CIA Agent (Robert Redford) who has to use every trick in his not-inconsiderable playbook to successfully free an imprisoned agent (Brad Pitt) who also happens to be his protégé and close friend. Oh, and all of this on his last day of work. Nobody does the "ticking clock" quite like Scott, who installs not only a dramatic freeze frame but also a time stamp that practically smashes the screen apart. It's a fitting stylistic flourish, though, for a film that's all about time: the film shifts back and forth, liberally, from the modern day stuff with Redford running around his high tech office trying to make amends, cash in every favor he's collected, and block his superiors' boneheaded attempts at diplomacy, to various sequences of Pitt and Redford throughout their career (Vietnam, Cold War, etc). It's in these flashback sequences that Scott really shines, tasked with the double duty of creating captivating suspense set pieces while also delivering important character beats, and he pulls it off marvelously. While by no means a classic, it remains an under-seen gem, an intoxicating mix of spy-versus-spy conspiratorial atmosphere and Scott's go-for-broke edge-of-your-seat excitement that beats, for sheer white-knuckle intensity, the entire run of "24." [B]

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


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