Monday, August 20, 2012

This Gun For Hire: Tony Scott

Not gonna get into the how, why or personal life and death of Tony Scott because I know nothing about them. All I know is that he was a film maker of considerable skill and craft (which I'll juxtapose with 'vision,' I suppose) who made unapologetically commercial flicks - action films, mostly - that went big, made a splash, were always pushing the limits of style and delivery, and though often ridiculous, never treated the material smugly, with irony or detachment.

I'm not sure he fits the criteria for the This Gun For Hire exactly - he was A-list all the way, could pick and choose his projects, I'm sure, and anybody worthy of an all-out parody by The Coen Brothers (which Burn After Reading clearly was), must be some class of auteur - but you got the feeling, looking at his body of work, that craft really was the thing, for him. He wanted to make kick-ass entertainment and grind that cutting edge to near invisibility. And for the most part, I think he did.

Top Five Tony Scott Movies

5) The Last Boy Scout - Shane Black worked that witty Black/White, tough-guy buddy banter in his scripts for Lethal Weapon, Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and probably will in Iron Man 3. He could probably churn it out in his sleep (where the endless Weapon sequels were probably produced). He wrote scripts for the sensibilities of film makers like Richard Donner, Renny Harlin, John McTiernan and Walter Hill, but in Tony Scott was met more than half-way and together they turned out a highlight of both careers (as well as the peak of Bruce Willis's action-star trajectory. Die Hard is still the best, but it was a gently sloping descent into self-parody from here).

4) Domino - Ridiculous? Over the top? Juuuuust a bit, but holy hell, it's a lot of fun. The opening scene of the trailer park assault and severed limb and shit? Love it. By the end, this one's a mess (a Richard Kelly script, y'know), but it always errs in favor of entertainment value. Going for it: Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, true-ish story of Laurence Harvey's daughter - model-turned-bounty-hunter Domino Harvey - Tom Waits, Christopher Walken, Delroy Lindo and the best use of Three Dog Night's Mama Told Me (Not to Come) ever.

3) Revenge - Before Kevin Costner went supernova he had two of his best roles as the guy who comes between a powerful man and a beautiful woman. The first time he wriggled betwixt Gene Hackman and Sean Young in Roger Donaldson's fantastic No Way Out, but Revenge (adapted from Jim Harrison's book), where he uh, inserts himself into Anthony Quinn and Madeleine Stowe's marriage goes, for once,  for the smaller-scale fall-out (though, it's still plenny big). Love the old Mexico setting - always a favorite for gringos in trouble movies - and it doesn't skimp on the bloody come-uppence.

2) The Hunger - based on the novel by Whitley Strieber, but probably just as much on his brother Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The style certainly begs for comparison with his sibling's here, more than any other of his films, and where Blade Runner explored what makes us human from the finite-ness of life angle, The Hunger gets at similar questions through the grotesque refraction of human life without end. The two films would make an excellent double feature, come to think of it. It is, in fact, the only vampire flick I can think of that really makes use of the horror of immortality, and makes me call bullshit on all tales of age-less predators falling in love with human teenagers.

1) True Romance - What's to say? If you haven't seen this one, you've got your no-brainer homework assignment. Anybody else working with this material from Quentin Tarantino would've turned in a smug, ironic, slacker-chic pose-off instead of the picture Tony gave us, which came by its humor, excitement and harrowing violence honestly (even though it's fantasy - don't know of any other examples of this kind of thing working well - not even Wild at Heart hit the mark so true). How many show-stopping scenes does this one have? Christian Slater and Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper, Patricia Arquette and James Gandolfini, and the everybody shoots the holy shit out of each other finale. Even the minor exchanges - the 'I'd fuck Elvis' intro, Gandolfini & Brad Pitt, Chris Penn & Tom Sizemore's back and forth, Bronson Pinchot with a wire in his crotch and a gun in his eye, Saul Rubinek making the deal... Fuck it, I'm gonna go watch it again.

It's testament to the consistent quality of his work that I had such trouble narrowing this list down to five, but these are the ones I'm most up for repeat viewings of. Just off screen - Crimson Tide, Man On Fire, Spy Game and Enemy of the State. Wanna see Scott having a blast? Check out his short film Beat the Devil - one of those high-concept BMW commercials that starred Clive Owen as The Driver. They recruited top-shelf talent film makers to make these short flicks that would feature Owen and some model of BMW, but everything else was up for grabs. Scott's was one of the best - with James Brown, and Gary Oldman's most excellent post-Drexel role.


Paul D Brazill said...

That's a pretty tasty selelction of tight film making.

Gordon said...

Hey, Jed, really enjoyed this one. I'll be watching True Romance again this weekend for sure.

jedidiah ayres said...

Gordon - saw your list too. So good overlap