Tony Scott Retrospective

Hearing the sad news that director Tony Scott passed away on Sunday 19th August 2012, The Filmfellas felt it fitting to compile a brief restrospective of this important director’s work. Now as Sod’s law would have it, the only reviewer available for the job was me, FilmFella Henry: I hold my hands up and admit to not being Scott’s biggest fan.

That said, I’ve tried to be as fair and uncritical as possible, both out of respect and the knowledge that he had quite a large following. But apologies anyway to any Tony Scott fans out there who may find my enthusiasm for the guy not on par with their own exuberance – each to their own I guess. And yes I’ve missed films out, which is down to both a fickle memory (I got Days Of Thunder mixed up with Thunderball for God’s sake) and a conservative estimate of the average reader’s attention span.

Think I’m totally off the mark? Voice your concerns in the comment section below.

Starting from (almost) the beginning…

Top Gun (1986)

I’ll kick things off with Scott’s iconic ’80’s action flick Top Gun, the film that brought him into the mainstream limelight. Garnering a bigger budget than his previous film The Hunger, Top Gun attempted to court a broader audience with adrenaline-fuelled aerial set pieces, typical ’80’s macho camaraderie and a young, pre-cultist era Tom Cruise.

Top Gun was one of those much-talked about films I saw as a kid, like Aliens, Predator and Die Hard. Everyone had seen and loved the blend of spectacular F14 dogfights, brief touches of tragedy (Goose getting his neck snapped after an ejector seat botch up) and Tom Cruise’s roguish, loose cannon character Maverick. It seemed to tick all the boxes and was an instant hit.

That’s not to say the film is without flaws. A recent re-watch highlighted how much the film has aged (arguably subsequent parodies like Hotshots are partially responsible for this), the strong (I assume unintentional) homo-erotic undertones and the fact it is predominantly a showcase for Tom Cruise, who now just seems cringe worthy. But that aside, Top Gun still remains an important film for the ’80’s, not only because of what it did for aerial combat action scenes, but also because it heralded the start of Tony Scott’s rising career as a notable action/thriller director.

Beverley Hills Cop 2 (1987)

After the success of Top Gun, hiring Tony Scott to helm this action-driven buddy cop comedy made sense. And to be fair, he did a pretty decent job. Avoiding the pitfalls of Beverley Hills Cop 3, Scott managed to inject some pretty good action sequences while keeping the same comedy themes of the first film. Eddie Murphy shines as Axel Foley, building on his previous comedy roles in 48 Hrs, Trading Places and obviously Beverly Hill Cop. And of course, there’s plenty of cop flick clichés, from police department in-fighting to typically villainous bad guys and stilted action dialogue… but I guess it just adds to the good ol’ ’80’s charm.

True Romance (1993)

And here we have it: in my opinion Tony Scott’s best film. Obviously a very big nod is due to Tarantino who chiefly wrote the script (with a little help from Roger Avery) and it is debatable whether he would have been a better choice to direct. That aside, Scott should be praised for such a solid translation, combining both his own and Tarantino’s unique styles into an effective film that could easily have resulted in a jarring ill-fated compromise.

Sporting one of the best scenes in cinema history (where Dennis Hopper eloquently brands Christopher Walken an eggplant), True Romance is a thoroughly entertaining, deceptively appealing love story with an Elvis-hallucinating protagonist blazing up Hollywood. Consistently funny, exciting and bizarre, True Romance also sports an impressive range of up and coming talent (Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, Samuel L Jackson, James Gandolfini et al) which says a lot about Scott’s pulling power at the time.

A film for any director to be proud of, True Romance will hopefully remain for a long time in the annals of cinema history.

Crimson Tide (1995)

This submarine based thriller departs from Scott’s traditional action route, favouring a character based dilemma-driven taught thriller. Set during a potential nuclear crises, Crimson Tide has Gene Hackman doing what he does best: playing a headstrong, ruthless borderline villain pitted against an equally stubborn Denzel Washington. As the rift between them grows to engulf the whole sub’s crew, Scott cultures a tense, unpredictable atmosphere, which makes determining which character is in the right even harder.

While Crimson Tide could maybe have borrowed a little more from it’s naval predecessor The Hunt For Red October, it generally works. Performances are good, the narrative introduces ethical questions and Scott copes well without falling back on large set pieces and his typical action reliance.

Man On Fire (2004)

I’ll admit to not being overly fond of Man On Fire. Largely down to a growing weariness with Denzel Washington’s acting limitations, I also found Man On Fire to be both trite and lacking edge. But that said, Scott doesn’t make films for me – he makes them for the masses. And the masses liked Man On Fire.

In its favour, Man On Fire does play out the self-sacrificing hero device to a T, with Denzel enduring quite a bit of hurt to rescue a kidnapped kid: in this regard Taken certainly owes this film a rather big debt. Scott, as always directs in his own unique style, spicing up an often lack lustre narrative beyond expectation. From this point, Tony Scott displays a clear skill, avoiding overblown Michael Bay craziness, while keeping the story accessible and energised enough to court the larger market.

Unstoppable (2010)

Tony Scott’s latter years proved to be something of a slump: Domino was a joke, Deja Vu had a protagonist of limited intelligence making nonsensical decisions and The Taking Of Pelham 123 was (if I’m being honest) a smack in the face to both audiences and the original movie.

Preventing a career derailment, Scott delivered Unstoppable: an unassuming film of runaway train that was surprisingly enjoyable. Sure, it yet again features Denzel and is somewhat limited in narrative, but that really didn’t bother me: the point is that Scott set out to make a simplistic action thriller and he delivered exactly that. Harnessing a good degree of suspense through use of fake news reports, Unstoppable felt a bit like witnessing a live disaster real time, with all the boring bits cut out. The ability to make watching a train not only interesting, but thrilling is no mean feat: Scott’s success at this is a good testament to his unique directorial ability.

So there it is. While certainly not my favourite director, Scott deserves a doff of the proverbial cap and my respect, if only for introducing True Romance into my life.

RIP Tony Scott 1944 – 2012

About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

4 Responses to Tony Scott Retrospective

  1. Mark Walker says:

    I’m also not this man’s biggest fan and I won’t pretend to be now that he has passed but what I will say, is that I always tended to give his film’s a chance no matter what. There was always the likelihood that he’d deliver the goods and to this day True Romance remains with of my all time favourite film’s. I just love it.

    • filmfellahenry says:

      I too was usually willing to give Tony Scott a chance, which is weird as I am usually quite dismissive of directors I don’t like. My flat mate recently described the guy as an auteur: although I initially scoffed at the idea, after thinking about it I realised that he did actually have a very unique style about him. Being able to court a mainstream audience in the action/thriller genre while still keeping the Critic hounds at bay is a balance few filmmakers have managed to achieve (most notably Chris Nolan I guess) and that should be recognised.

      Plus of course he made True Romance, which expunges many of the errors I perceived in his career.

  2. Martin Brown says:

    Dear Henry I appreciate your style. I have tried looking at the review and all the other links on the page but this time they don’t work. Is there a problem with them? Regards to the film Fellas! Martin

    • filmfellahenry says:

      Thanks for reading Martin! The images and links should work correctly on the page: I have tested with two different computers and a mobile. It could be that your browser is missing plugins? Personally I always favour Google Chrome, both for its good UI and easy options to upgrade necessary elements.

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