Tony Scott was the first director that made me pay attention to directors.
I was 15 when “True Romance” came out, and I remember watching the credits afterward to find out who directed it. I understood that movies were big productions with lots of moving pieces, but it was one of the first times I understood how a director could put his personal stamp on a movie. When I found out “True Romance” was made by the same guy who made “Top Gun,” “Days of Thunder” and “The Last Boy Scout,” I realized I was a huge fan of Tony Scott. Scott died Sunday in Los Angeles after jumping off a bridge; reports today say he had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.
I always admired Scott’s slick visual style and cinematic compositions. There’s a climactic scene in “The Fan,” a 1996 baseball thriller starring Robert DeNiro as a deranged sports fanatic obsessed with a pro ball player played by Wesley Snipes, where a baseball game is played in what looks like the middle of a typhoon. Baseball games, of course, get called for rain. But Scott didn’t let that minor quibble get in the way of a good looking scene.
As he got older he continued to evolve, using more jump cuts and erratic editing choices in his storytelling. “Enemy of the State,” Scott’s 1998 techno spy thriller starring Will Smith, utilizes all manner of quick cuts and various cameras and film stocks, but in 2004′s “Man on Fire” — one of Scott’s five collaborations with Denzel Washington — he goes truly off the deep end, employing the use of subtitles that pop and zoom and dance across the screen like they have lives of their own. The berserk 2005 bounty hunter pic “Domino” is even crazier, its wild editing and themes of media overload on par with Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers.”
Tony Scott made movies for guys, testosterone-fueled action movies that looked cool and played well to summer audiences. In the ranks of other masters of Guy Cinema, his films weren’t as cerebral or probing as the works of Michael Mann, but they weren’t dumb or offensively lugheaded like Michael Bay’s movies. Scott’s films were smart, efficient showcases of technical mastery that aimed to please and rarely disappointed. His movies weren’t deep, but they were several notches above shallow.
“Top Gun” was Scott’s highest-grossing and most influential work, as it largely set the tone for the modern blockbuster era. But the great “True Romance” will always be my favorite of his films, and the movie that largely shaped my movie worldview. It’s a cool, crackling male fantasy that explodes with tension and features essential performances from Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman and more. It combes his visual flare and action sensibilities with the wit and grit of screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, and in my eyes it’s his best work. He will be missed.