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True Romance (1993)
True Romance is a 1993 American romantic crime film written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott. The film stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette with an ensemble cast consisting of Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Chris Penn, Michael Rapaport, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Corrigan, James Gandolfini, and Brad Pitt. Val Kilmer is heard but not seen (except in silhouette) as an inner-voice to one of the main characters. Comic book store clerk and film buff Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) watches a Sonny Chiba triple feature at a Detroit movie theater for his birthday. There he meets attractive Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette), seemingly by chance. They go to a diner for pie after the theater and engage in flirtatious conversation before heading to Clarence's apartment. After having sex, she tearfully confesses that she is a call girl hired by Clarence's boss as a birthday present. She has fallen in love with Clarence and he with her. The next day, they marry. Alabama's volatile pimp, Drexl Spivey (Gary Oldman), makes Clarence uneasy.
At the heart of all great films is the joy of discovery. We become not merely entertained with a fascinating story and engaging characters, but consumed by a vivid new landscape that excites and frightens us. In its own twisted way, True Romance opens up a whole new world. And this world of pimps, guns, drugs, and love is zanily, ridiculously brilliant. Not often do we see such a world in what is otherwise a simple love story, but that is the essence of True Romance; it is the most warm-hearted movie ever made about killers, coke dealers, and hookers.
Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette play the star-crossed lovers at the center of this wild fairy tale, and their quirky and unconventional yet firm and unbreakable bond is what drives the film even in its most violent, anachronistic tangents. Slater is Clarence, the prototypical '90s indie hero: He loves movies, comics, and Elvis. Arquette is Alabama, a beautifully tacky platinum blonde call girl ('not a whore -- there's a difference') who spills her popcorn all over Clarence at a Sonny Chiba triple-feature and then takes him out for the best night of his life.
Clarence and Alabama declare their love on their first night together, get married the next day, and set off to start a new life together. But something is nagging Clarence: Alabama needs her clothes. More to the point, her clothes are still in the possession of her pimp, Drexl (Gary Oldman, sporting dreadlocks and a shiny grill in one of the most memorable roles of his legendary career), who no doubt abused Alabama in more ways than one. Clarence can't shake the feeling that this seedy bastard gets to live on being an evil kingpin. So he goes to Drexl's inner city drug-infested apartment, kills the pimp in cold, brutal blood, and instead of coming back with Alabama's clothes, he returns unwittingly carrying a suitcase full of cocaine.
The plan: Head off to Hollywood, where the newlyweds can sell the coke to a movie mogul at a discount and still make enough to 'last us the rest of our lives.' Of course, no big idea can ever truly unfold as planned. Clarence and Alabama find themselves the targets of a multi-level mafia syndicate who want to hunt them down and reclaim the cocaine that is rightfully theirs. But Clarence is stubborn, Alabama is fierce, and their love for each other keeps their plan afloat. What results is a beautiful series of shoot-outs, showdowns, and sage-like counseling sessions with the ghost of Elvis (Val Kilmer) that elevate this material far beyond standard thriller territory and into the sublime.
True Romance was directed by Tony Scott, who brings the perfect amount of off-kilter otherworldliness without over-extending his stylistic grasp, as he has done in subsequent films. The screenplay comes courtesy of modern genius Quentin Tarantino, who has left his unmistakable imprint on American culture several times, but for whom this is one of his most clever and effective screenplays, because as outlandish as the scenario becomes, these characters still hold some bearing on reality. Clarence and Alabama are lovers of kitsch, but their story is not itself kitschy.
The film is an unending cornucopia of movie delights. Scene after scene takes off and soars far beyond any reasonable expectations. Slater and Arquette are better than ever; Brad Pitt appears as his now-legendary stoner character; Oldman goes out on a big limb and is unforgettable; and Christopher Walken shares one brilliant, riveting scene with Dennis Hopper in which the two giants talk in Tarantinoesque language and one-up each other with every hilarious delivery. Tarantino creates his own universe with its own set of rules, and Scott wisely allows the authorial touches to come from QT, from the movie references to the unrelenting violence to the unmistakable rhythm of the dialogue. True Romance is an insanely transcendent motion picture, one that has been and will continue to be copied, referenced, and remembered for years to come.
Fun in the sun.