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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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"The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” (2009)
Bloody, gritty, profane, and obsessively stylish, Tony Scott's hostage/hijacking tale “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” is more than up to the task of re-imagining its source material (Joseph Sargent’s 1974 original film which itself was based on an original novel by John Godey). Scott’s version is crisply written and wonderfully efficient (Brian Helgeland gets screenplay credit and does a crafty, tight job with uncredited help from David Koepp) with juicy performances from Denzel Washington as the morally conflicted hero and a sneering, bald, tattooed, and constantly cursing John Travolta in one of his best performances as the psychopathic villain. It's quite clear Travolta was having a blast; he's in “Face/Off” territory here. “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” isn’t an awards movie and it's not the sort of film that appeared on a ton of top 10 lists. It's just a souped up genre film made with extreme skill by a director in love with his craft. Scott takes a well-worn narrative (the hostage crisis thriller scenario) and amps up the thrills and excitement with sexy cinematography (by Tobias Schleisser, a Peter Berg regular) and flashy editing techniques (Chris Lebenzon, the action genius behind “Top Gun,” “Crimson Tide,” “Enemy of the State,” and “Pearl Harbor”), which makes for a fast-moving piece of hard-edged, R-rated entertainment. [B]

"Unstoppable" (2010)
Tony Scott needs his ritalin, Tony Scott has ADD, Tony Scott is schizophrenic and needs mental help. Hell, we’ll be the first to admit that we’ve lobbed a lot of these criticisms at Scott’s frenzied, unhinged and sometimes just inanely over-edited and manic form of cinema. But we’ll also be the first to admit that his latest train movie (that’s two in a row) is an exhilarating experience, his best film since “Enemy of the State,” and finally uses his kinetic/fruitcake camerawork strengths in the name of good instead of evil. Possibly one of the biggest assets of the film is a lack of a villain. In his sometimes cartoonish films, the antagonists are almost always laughable caricatures. Here, the only evildoer is human error and a faceless train that’s rolling out of control and threatening to decimate a rather big and populated town. Other advantages include over-the-top Fox News reports, oily corporate assholes making margin-loss based decisions, and goofball, inept track workers who precipitate this entire mess. Usually these plot devices in Tony Scott films are black-and-white and make your eyes roll because they’re so forced. Here, they’re a form of delightful comedy and often so ridiculous, they’re a good laugh. Big, dumb, thrilling fun -- plus simply just genuinely nail-biting and intense -- “Unstoppable” is an undeniably enjoyable film and hopefully a track that Scott continues on from here on in. [B+]

-- Drew Taylor, Rodrigo Perez, Nick Clement, Mark Zhuravsky, Gabe Toro, Erik McClanahan,

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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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