Aug 20, 2012

Tony Scott

Tony Scott was among the best practitioners of the action genre and he left behind a number of iconic movies, from the small cult movie The Hunger to Top Gun. His death is enormously tragic, yet as many obits confirm, his movies, although immensely popular, were not usually liked by  critics (in contrast to the work of his brother and collaborator Ridley Scott, responsible for movies like Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, all popular and critical successes).
Tony Scott's movies were, for the most part, preposterous blockbusters; adored by the masses, derided by reviewers. The success of his big movies like Top Gun, The Last Boy Scout, and Days of Thunder paved the way for increasingly over the top studio extravaganzas, which turned out to be much less watchable, and far more stupid than the worst Tony Scott movie. Compared to the Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay school of cinematic destruction, Scott's films are a marvel of restraint. There is always an interesting character worth following. He always got solid performances out of his actors, which is more than you can say for many action films. And the action sequences are top notch (although sometimes his movies feel like there never was a cut he didn't like). Still, they are no masterpieces. Many times, they verge on the cheesy. Top Gun and Thunder Days are perfect examples of Tony Scott's brand of impeccably executed mindlessness.
In any case, here are my favorite Tony Scott movies:
First one out of the gate, and his first movie, is The Hunger, a mesmerizing vampire clunker that has achieved cult status because of a notorious lesbian scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve. We should be forever grateful to Tony Scott just for orchestrating such an event. The movie is artsy cheese. Lots of fog, fans and venetian blinds. Very 80s, campy fun. With David Bowie, as what else? A vampire.
I actually liked Revenge, starring Kevin Costner, Madeleine Stowe and a scene-stealing Anthony Quinn. It's a little noir set in Mexico, in which Costner has the hots for Stowe, who is married to Quinn, who is sheer evil. Dark and very satisfying.
True Romance, with a script by Quentin Tarantino, happens to be one of my favorite Tarantino films. It is exhilarating fun and has one of the greatest supporting casts ever. A scene between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken is worth the price of admission. Brad Pitt is very funny as a clueless pothead. Scott directed with great verve, making Tarantino's chutzpah shine through.
Crimson Tide is a pretty taut submarine thriller that pits the great Denzel Washington against the great Gene Hackman in a battle of wills, which is like sinking your teeth into a most delicious acting sandwich. Apparently, an uncredited Tarantino spiffed up the dialogue, making it more fun than any submarine movie has any right to be.
Scott made several collaborations with Denzel Washington, who has made a career of delivering plausible, unshakable, dignified action heroes. Washington has a smart gravitas that other action stars don't. He always sounds like a human being and not a sound bite. Even in the most ridiculous action films he makes you care and keeps you following him, which is what happens in the mess that is Man on Fire.
I didn't see Scott's remake of The Taking of the Pelham 1-2-3, but I did catch Unstoppable on TV and enjoyed the well manufactured tension of a train hurtling towards destruction without brakes. I also enjoyed watching a lox like Chris Pine come up to bat against Denzel and become a better actor for it.
I hope the Scott family is consoled by the love of millions of people for the films of Tony Scott.

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