Noted film director Tony Scott committed suicide early Sunday morning. According to witness accounts, he drove his car onto the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, California, scaled the surrounding fence, and jumped.
He left notes both in his office and on the front seat of his car, though none of that information has been released and it will be weeks before the coroner’s report is made public. Though it certainly seems that this was something of an impulse brought on by some cataclysmic event (read: no gun, pills, etc), we won’t know what (literally) pushed him over the ledge for some time, if ever.
I never met the man. Though I wish I had, I do feel that I had something of a sense of him through his work which, to me, was more enjoyable than that of even his more widely known, Academy-Award nominated brother, Ridley Scott.
Tony had a style all of his own; he had the kinetic, hand-held, frenzied look long before Paul Greengrass made it popular with the Bourne-sequels. In the last decade of his life, he adopted specific colors into this style, giving his films a smoky, gritty, real-but-almost-too-real look and feel.
As he evolved further into his craft and career, his lead characters jumped right off the screen. Often overlooked by the critics, his leads (often played by Denzel Washington) were usually every-men in some way, just trying to deal with the extreme situations put in front of them (not unlike John McClane in Die Hard).
When I’m working on my own screenplay or watch just about any action movie, I often think of Scott’s style and watch how many directors emulate pieces or even all of what he brought to the table (Safe House, a recent film with Washington and Ryan Reynolds, was so like him, I didn’t realize it WASN’T until my second viewing).
In honor of Tony Scott, I present my five favorite films of his, and the couple I still need to see:
5. tie-Crimson Tide (1995) & Domino (2005)
High Fidelity (not a Tony Scott film) has taught me to think of my pop culture in terms of lists of five, so therefore there are five here, but this was a tough choice. While I enjoyed every T-Scott film I saw, there wasn’t one on par with the Top 4 here. So I hedged and chose two. Crimson Tide for its intense thrills and amazing real-time second half. Domino for his bringing out a whole other side of Keira Knightly and a full-dose of the T-Scott style, since this was a very personal film to him.
4. Top Gun (1986)
Of all of the films which he directed, Top Gun is the one which can truly be considered a classic. Certainly not an Academy Award winning film, but in terms of pure entertainment, certainly at the top of the Hollywood lexicon. Also the film which launched Tom Cruise as an action superstar and sex symbol, as well as a microcosm of the 1980’s in America.
3. Unstoppable (2010)
Will always be a bit bittersweet since this is Scott’s last film in the director’s chair. His fifth film with Denzel Washington was a very typical Scott adventure: every-men (Washington with new star Chris Pine) in a gritty, balls-to-the-wall action film based on actual events which transpired on the Pennsylvania railroads. Got surprisingly great reviews, and wound up on a lot of Top 10 lists due to its constant build-up of action and tension (kind of like the locomotive the pair so famously chased). This was Scott at the pinnacle of his game.
2. Man on Fire (2004)
A bit of a different film for Scott, Man on Fire (with Washington again) was a tale of two halves: the first, a pensive, thought provoking portrait of a broken man just trying to find a shred of life of his own, and the second, an unending explosion of action and revenge in trying to cling to that very shred of his existence. Scott got Washington’s best work here. Academy passed…sad.
1. Spy Game (2001)
One of my all-time, top five favorite films. Certainly not the best of this list (I’d put Man on Fire up against just about anything), but a hell of a lot of fun. A film of two characters, their relationship and a great look into the politics of the CIA. Robert Redford and Brad Pitt (who is something of a Redford 2.0, really) have an easy, breezy chemistry that glosses over many of the movies flaws.
The Ones I Haven’t Seen
True Romance (1993): Tony Scott doing his first “art” film, from an early script by Quentin Tarantino (you may have heard of him). Check out Doug Richardson’s blog for a great piece on the making of this film (and another one which would have been better had Scott taken it on).
Beverly Hills Cop II (1987): How have I not seen this? I’ve seen the first and even the FAR inferior third (awful, really), but somehow have over-looked this throughout the years. His follow-up after breaking out with Top Gun.
Revenge (1990): Kevin Costner action film which has been condemned to B-movie status. Sounds a lot like a precursor to Jack Reacher (if you don’t know who Jack Reacher is, you soon will).
The Hunger (1983): Scott’s first turn in the director’s chair nearly ended his career before it started. Vampires long before they were cool, with Susan Sarandon as a co-star (who later starred in a small film for brother Ridley called Thelma and Louise). I’m not sure I can stomach this one…vampires were played out for me BEFORE Twilight (so you can imagine my revulsion now).
A couple of films which Scott had been rumored to be working on:
24: The Movie: The ending of 24 (the show) had Jack Bauer (SPOILER ALERT!) once again heading off into the sunset as a national fugitive after the execution of Dana Walsh on a dirty cellar floor (Walsh had ordered the killing of Bauer’s latest love, Rene Walker). I was sort of on the fence about a movie, even one that was so clearly set up, but who better than the action guru of the everyman to take on the kinetic and over-the-top action of 24? This was a match made in heaven…too bad Fox, the network who paid J-Lo $16 million a year to judge American Idol contestants, so completely cheaped out (Keifer Sutherland and the 24 producers wanted $40 million for a guaranteed $100M+ film…Fox would only give $30M).
Top Gun 2: I had no idea how this could be done, though I figured it would somehow involve Tom Cruise flying planes, playing volleyball shirtless (though hopefully not with Val Kilmer) and probably being an instructor at a certain military base in the San Diego area. But we’ve all seen Scott do more with much less.
RIP Tony Scott…you’ll be missed.