Monday, August 20, 2012

Tony Scott (1944-2012)

What an odd and tragic end to one of the more consistently entertaining directors Hollywood has ever seen.  I have often looked at the careers of Tony Scott and his brother, and while it is Ridley who gets the bulk of the accolades.  Sunday afternoon, Tony Scott leaped to his death from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles.  An inoperable brain tumor was the news Scott received at some point before his decision to take his own life.  Never one to stray from adventure, my pure speculation is that Scott could not imagine a life of pain and immobility keeping his from his adventurous lifestyle.  He cut it off at the pass.  That is not to say his decision was the right one, it was short-sighted and selfish indeed.  But, knowing Scott's penchant for a fast life, the way in which he ended his run here makes perfect sense.

Tony Scott will always be remembered first and foremost for making Tom Cruise a superstar in Top Gun, but that is merely the tip of the iceberg for Scott's career.  Not to mention the fact that Top Gun is anything but his best film.  There are a great many pictures to examine and consider his best.  Scott the director had style - a particular use of light and shadow in his earlier work followed by frenetic editing in his latter films - and he had an eye for smart action in dumb films.  He could take something ridiculous and make it beautiful in all of its glorious absurdity.  Very few Tony Scott films are the same, save for the Top Gun/Days of Thunder duo.  Here are, in my opinion, his five best...

5) Top Gun - As I said and as everyone knows, Top Gun is the picture that launched Tom Cruise into the stratosphere as the biggest, most bankable action star Hollywood has ever seen.  However, at the same time, the high-flying action spectacle also opened doors for Tony Scott.  The film, about a US fighter-pilot school and the egos at war within the program, was a smash success in 1986 that contained some awe-inspiring aerial fights.  Cruise plays Maverick, squaring off against his adversary, Ice Man (Val Kilmer), teaming up with his buddy, Goose (Anthony Edwards), and falling for Charlie (Kelly McGillis), a teacher at the flight school.  Time has not been kind to Top Gun, but it still deserves its place in the Pantheon of American cinema.

4) The Last Boyscout - Some days I might place this picture higher on my list.  Never lower.  While the premise is absurd, the one liners are shoe horned in most of the time, and the opening sequence is bawdy, The Last Boyscout nevertheless is an excellent cash in on the buddy-cop films made famous after Lethal Weapon.  In fact, one scene in The Last Boyscout has Lethal Weapon playing on a TV set, clearly an homage.  This film features Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans as hard-luck former stars in their respective craft teaming up to bring down corruption in pro football and the California government.  This has and always will be one of my favorite action flicks, despite the noticeable flaws.

3) Man on Fire - I wasn't as much of a fan of this film the first time I saw it.  I found the editing distracting and the story bloated.  But after repeated viewings I learned to truly love it.  First of all, if I didn't care for it, I thought, why was I watching it again and again.  Because it is a rich and compelling revenge/kidnapping film with layers upon layers of action and pathos.  Denzel Washington plays a hired bodyguard out to find a kidnapped daughter (Dakota Fanning) of wealthy Mexico City debutantes.  The film relies on the magnetic performance of Washington, who attacks the film with ferocity and single-minded drive.  While the editing is still somewhat of a distraction, there is no denying the power and scope of the picture as a whole.

2) Crimson Tide - Submarine films have always seemed difficult to make given the close quarters and tension necessary to keep the limited mobility compelling.  Tony Scott figured out a way to make the dramatic moments in between the action scenes as riveting as any dialogue in a submarine movie; simply hire two brilliant actors and the picture takes care of itself.  Hackman plays an old and hard nosed sub captain, Washington the young idealist.  As the two butt heads over a fragmented distress call, pushing America to the brink of a possible nuclear war, the verbal sparring between Hackman and Washington is some of the best, most energetic dialogue in any submarine film. 

1) True Romance - Not only is True Romance the best Scott film, it is some sort of hyper-violent masterpiece.  Benefiting from a script by Quentin Tarantino, the romantic adventure film follows the exploits of Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette) as they travel to California to sell some drugs and run off into the sunset.  Full of wonderful performances from the two leads, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken,  Dennis Hopper, Bronson Pinchot, and a great turn from Brad Pitt as Floyd the stoner, True Romance has been and always will be one of my all time favorites.  Pitt described it as a young man's wet dream, and to this I agree.  It has a dreamlike quality, and is fascinating from start to finish.

RIP Mr. Scott.  Though I doubt resting in peace would be your thing...