You Need to Watch a Tony Scott Film

Quick update on my Tony Scott piece from August 22 (if you haven’t read it, scroll down).

In the wake of Scott’s suicide, I went back and watched a few of my favorite films of his while also taking on three of the four I hadn’t seen. (Though I wanted to, I couldn’t make myself sit through The Hunger, an apparently bad vampire movie which almost ended the director’s career because of its awfulness).

I have to agree with Quentin Tarantino: Scott and his primary leading man Denzel Washington had one of the finest director-actor collaborations of our time (I’d say Scorsese/DiCaprio is probably tops right now), and two films stand out of the pack: Man on Fire and Unstoppable.

Man on Fire is an amazing film. The depth of the despair, guilt and demons we see from Washington’s Creasy, just from looks and demeanor alone, was Oscar-worthy. Washington didn’t do work like that in Training Day, for which he won the second of his gold statues. Scott towed the line between tension and drama without going too far into the other. We snap with Creasy when his fragile, rebuilt life (encompassed by Dakota Fanning’s Pita) is snatched away from him, and root him on through one of the greatest revenge rampages of all time. All of this with Scott’s stylized, gritty, textured world that is Mexico City, which we love and hate simultaneously through his eyes.

To call Unstoppable a different movie is an understatement of epic proportions. Washington shares screen time with the up and coming Chris Pine, and the two play off each other with a snappy chemistry which is really the icing on Scott’s cake. Scott is the real hero of this film; taking a very basic story and stripping it to its essence. In under 100 minutes, Scott builds the tension and ups the ante with each passing scene, giving the movie the feel of his 777 locomotive: more powerful and, yes, unstoppable, with each passing scene. Pity it was his last film.

I also sat down to watch Beverly Hills Cop II, Revenge and True Romance, in that order. BevHills, of course, is the Eddie Murphy action/comedy vehicle and unfortunately it doesn’t hold up. Very little of Scott was evident here, as this sequel clearly was created as a way to push brand Murphy farther up (before it was eventually destroyed by family friendly films directed by Brian Robbins). Murphy is funny, but the plot is basically crap and the schtick hits its expiration date long before the credits roll.

I’m going to spend very little time talking about Revenge. The best part of the film was the first couple of minutes, where we get a taste of Scott’s fighter jets again but this time with Kevin Costner at the helm. The rest of the movie is poorly paced and just bad. Sorry Tony, I really wanted to like this one; felt like an early version of Man on Fire and was hoping for more flight scenes.

True Romance is a hidden gem, what they call a cult classic. Written by Tarantino, the film features two young lovers and their, well, true romance. With all the Tarantino quirks (prolonged conversations about pop culture, kung fu movies, cliches turned on their head), Scott paces the film well and does a lot with just a little music. Scott later told Tarantino that he fell in love with both of the characters, and had to change the ending of the movie as a result. Some called him a commercial hack for this, but Scott didn’t care: it was his movie and he did what he felt right. If only more of us did that.

If you haven’t had the chance to experience Tony Scott (or maybe you have, but didn’t realize it was him), put these on your Netflix list:

Man on Fire
Unstoppable
Spy Game
True Romance
Top Gun
Crimson Tide

R.I.P.