Personally, I’m a Tarantino fan. For better or worse, the stuff he’s into is the stuff I’m into – by which I mean Sergio Leone movies and 1970s soul music and so on, not so much lady-feet and eyeball damage. I think that as a screenwriter, Tarantino has been a pervasive influence, either by example or by avoidance. And what he’s done for the cult movie DVD market cannot be underestimated. It’s because of him that I have Alligator and Mighty Peking Manin my home library, and if even for that alone, he’s a hero to me.
Unpopular opinion time: I don’t think that Tarantino has ever written a better scene than the scene he wrote between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in True Romance.
Almost as good? Routinely.
As good? Frequently.
Better? Probably not.
Watch it here:
I love that scene. At its most crucial moment, it’s almost entirely about something different than what is actually happening. In any other script by almost any other writer, it’d be a standard crime-movie occurrence: Walken’s gangster character repeatedly asking Hopper’s hapless security guard where his thieving son has gone, bellowing and slapping and so on. And it’d be shorter. In Tarantino’s version, sure it starts out that way, but soon enough, most of the talk is centered around Chesterfields and Italian history. The subtext is clear, but the menace and the resignation and the refusal and the “fuck you, Walken” all happen just under the surface. This is Screenwriting 101 for writers who want to learn the “show, don’t tell” rule. It makes a rote scene unique, surprising, and shocking. It makes the two actors as good as they’ve ever been. It makes you almost not notice the fact that Tony Soprano is walking around in the background, when you go back and watch it.
Of course, the reason that calling this scene Tarantino’s best is an unpopular opinion because it’s a scene from a Tarantino script that he didn’t direct. Tony Scott did. I think it’s still a compliment because it’s the writing that you remember best about the movie. It’s great work from Tony Scott and cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball and composer Hans Zimmer and particularly the casting department, who assembled quite literally one of the best casts in modern movie history, but even still, it’s a QT rodeo. True Romance is the movie that got Tarantino’s career going, and it’s the script that encapsulates the majority of his interests, themes, and obsessions all in one place. What was to follow was all there at the beginning.
You can see True Romance at midnight this weekend (Friday and Saturday night) at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. It’s great fun with an audience, so consider it.
For a related reading experience, please check out my tribute to Dennis Hopper.