If you haven’t heard, Tony Scott, the film director, passed away yesterday after committing suicide. Reports now indicate that he had inoperable brain cancer.
Author note: I’m not terribly good at this sort of thing. Just know that what I’m about to write isn’t intended to be crass, pandering, or insensitive. I sincerely mean what I say.
In my opinion, Tony Scott had a pretty unfair run with the critics. Sure his movies made lots of money and plenty of the general public loved his movies (myself included).
Of course Tony Scott’s movies were flashy, and “popcorn-y.” But he was the best at that sort of filmmaking. We tend to forget that one function of cinema is to offer entertainment. It’s to offer a ride. It’s a way to forget about the world around you and have a fun time. There’s nothing wrong with that. Scott was the best at making those sorts of movies.
These sorts of movies are what earned him the unfair reputation of being all style and no substance. But that’s not entirely correct. There’s a darkness, a seriousness, a grittiness underlying all of Scott’s best movies. If you peel back the style layer of movies like The Last Boy Scout, or True Romance, or Man on Fire, or Enemy of the State, you see that there is a purpose, there is meaning, there is a reason why, there is substance to these stories.
Ironically, the same critics who would blast Scott for having all style and nothing underneath, themselves would fall into a pattern of only relying that complaint to lodge against each of his movies. In other words, the argument of “all style and no substance” is itself an empty criticism. Because it was a lazy complaint to fall back on.
The point is, many of Scott’s films had more to say, and more substance than they were given credit for.
Two of the best examples of Scott firing on all cylinders are The Last Boy Scout and True Romance. The thing about both of these movies is that each had a writer who had the such a strong sense of style, it synced up with Scott.
For The Last Boy Scout, it was Shane Black. I’ve written about The Last Boy Scout Before, but it bears repeating. The movie is an unsung masterpiece. It is at times both a critique and celebration of early 90s action cinema. Part of its genius comes from the fact that Scott and Black are two of the architects of late 80s/early 90s action movies. If you’re gonna make a statement about something, who better than the ones who helped create it? The movie has a slightly ludicrous plot, two protagonists who only speak in sarcastic quips, and a deliciously evil villain. Another great part of the movie is that it has an underlying 90s noir vibe to it. The noir genre is something that both Scott and Black gravitate towards. It’s a common ancestor for their styles.
True Romance was penned by Quentin Tarantino. Only a few names in cinema could eclipse Scott’s in terms of style, and Tarantino is one of them. The output of both their styles was perfect for a action/crime love story. The film’s name, True Romance, isn’t an ironic one. This is a love story, but one that could only come from the minds of Scott and Tarantino. This movie, much like The Last Boy Scout, is an underrated masterpiece. In recent years it seems as if the film geek crowd has really embraced the movie, but to the masses it is a forgotten film. That’s a shame. The movie is jam packed with great characters and a sprawling plot. Some of the individual scenes — most notably the tête-à-têtes between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken — are masterpieces in of themselves.
In the coming weeks people are going to write about Tony Scott as the flashy director of Top Gun. But remember, Top Gun might be where he earned the reputation of pushing style in front of substance, but in reality, his films have a lot more depth than they first appear.
So if you’re like me you’re going to want to honor Scott by rewatching some of his films. I’d like to make a suggestion: Invite some people over to watch with you. His “style over substance” reputation might be unfairly skewed, but there’s no denying that his movies are fun to watch. Even more fun with other people.
- The Last Boy Scout
- True Romance
- Man on Fire
- Crimson Tide
- Enemy of the State