I’m too fucking sensitive. You’d think I wouldn’t be, you’d think I’d have toughened up some, having spent most of my life with the kind of movies Tony Scott made, but having heard the news of his death, I’m shocked and despondent. Never met the man, but as I said, I’ve spent plenty of time with his work and it pains me to think that we won’t be getting any more of it. I don’t feel it would be appropriate for me to comment on anything other than his filmography, except to say that it truly pains me to think of the suffering of anyone whose work brought so much enjoyment to me and to so many others.
Above these words you saw a poster gallery made up of movies directed by Tony Scott. That’s not even everything, nor is it taking into account all of the influential commercial work he did or the films he didn’t direct but helped produce, including The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Cyrus, The A-Team, and The Grey (still my number-one movie of 2012 so far). As the younger brother of Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), Tony Scott is often compared to his brother, although they worked together and co-produced many of each other’s films. Ridley is certainly considered more prestigious and award-friendly, while Tony’s movies generally don’t seem to have lofty ambitions — the main goal of his films is as entertainment. (A fine goal, in my opinion.) But those who undervalue Tony do so at the peril of revealing that they don’t know much about movies.
Joe Carnahan, one of my favorite modern directors and a kindred spirit to Tony Scott, said it best on his Twitter account today: You would be hard-pressed to find a mainstream filmmaker who was bolder and more formally ambitious. Michael Bay was still an undergraduate when Tony Scott was bringing MTV-style cinematography and editing techniques into popular movies — a formal innovation that is now so commonplace we forget to credit where it came from. There is an adventuresomeness and a raucous energy to Tony Scott’s films, a distinctive style that many have imitated consciously or subconsciously but few have managed to duplicate. If you came in halfway to a Tony Scott movie, you’d still know he directed it, a quality that is limited to the great action names such as Peckinpah, Carpenter, Raimi, Woo, or Mann. But he wasn’t all flash and dazzle, not hardly — his very best movies, True Romance, Crimson Tide, The Last Boy Scout, and Man On Fire among them, show that he knew how to best make use of quality scriptwriting.
True Romance is maybe his most popular movie. I remember when the trailer came out, way back when — before I knew who Quentin Tarantino was, I was excited about it because it was a Tony Scott film. (I’d already seen The Last Boy Scout a dozen times by then.) By all accounts, Tarantino handed Scott a great script, but Scott knew how to make it fly — most notably in his changes to the ending, which I believe were the right creative choices. Along with his early championing of Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott is a central figure in the oevre of Denzel Washington, one of my favorite movie stars. You can’t talk about Denzel’s career without looking at Tony Scott’s contributions. Besides Spike Lee, there isn’t a director who worked with Denzel more. Denzel made five movies with Tony Scott, including Man On Fire, which was a high point for both of them. The character of Creasy is a perfect and unpredictable blend of the scary-toughness Denzel exuded in Training Day with the compassion Denzel was expressing at the time with movies like Antwone Fisher. A great writer needs a great director needs a great star and so on, in every which direction.
If we were to talk about what Tony Scott did for actors we love, we’d be here all day. Tom Cruise probably would have been a star no matter what, but it was Top Gun that made him one. Eddie Murphy became a convincing action star with Beverly Hills Cop 2, unfortunately he was used awkwardly in the actioners that followed. The initial Bruce Willis persona of Die Hard was solidified with what Tony Scott did with him on The Last Boy Scout (making Damon Wayans a convincing action lead in the process). Great character actors such as Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, John C. Reilly, Bruce McGill, Gary Oldman, James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Dennis Hopper, Benicio Del Toro, Ellen Barkin, Barry Pepper, and Mickey Rourke either got a major career boost or simply got another strong showcase for their talents, thanks to Tony Scott’s ability to get the best out of interesting faces. In fact, Tony Scott brought Mickey Rourke back long before The Wrestler did, with the key role of a tough mentor to Keira Knightley’s character in Domino.
Domino is a crucial movie towards understanding why Tony Scott deserves our appreciation, I think. It’s an oft-maligned and mostly-misunderstood genre blend which admittedly isn’t entirely successful. Tony Scott reportedly befriended the real Domino, daughter of an old-time movie star who led a wild life in her career as a bounty hunter. The movie shows that Tony Scott’s films have always been about assertive, capable women as much as they have often been about tough guys, and it has intriguing notions about how sex and violence and the media are so inseparable in America. Again, it’s not entirely successful, but I’ll take an interesting mess over a flawless bore anyday. In Domino, Scott pushed his formal aggressiveness about as far as it could be pushed in a mainstream movie. Undeterred, this restless camerawork and insect-twitching editing continued throughout his next three films, Deja Vu, The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3, and Unstoppable, with varied amounts of effectiveness.
This wasn’t an artist at rest. This wasn’t a successful filmmaker repeating a formula, or taking the easy way out. You can argue with me all day over which of his movies you like better, and how I may or may not be crazy to defend one over another, but one thing you cannot ever do is call a Tony Scott film boring. Not a one of them is.
Rest in peace, Tony Scott. Thank you deeply for the inspiration.
— Jon Abrams (@jonnyabomb).
Here is a short film directed by Tony Scott from 2005, starring Clive Owen, Gary Oldman, Danny Trejo, and James Brown. That’s right — James Brown.