Director Tony Scott jumped off a bridge in Los Angeles yesterday, abruptly ending a career that’s more valuable than many realize.
Scott, the lesser loved brother of Ridley, made his bones as an action director and made a good number of detractors by helping shape how we think of action movies today.
He didn’t invent quick cuts, aggressive camera movement and ADD-style direction, but he was one of the foremost users of those techniques. Ridley gets all the acclaim (well, he gets some acclaim) Scott is generally thought of as a director for hire rather than an auteur, but it’s difficult to make that argument for someone who has added two films to the American canon:
1) Top Gun
Look, say what you want about Top Gun, but chances are you remember every scene from that movie. It established Tom Cruise as an icon and helped usher in a new era in action/adventure movies, characterized by high-tech gadgetry and patriotic machismo. Top Gun probably isn’t a great movie, but it’s eminently watchable and compulsively enjoyable. Shirtless beach volleyball, “Take My Breath Away,” Cruise’s Ray Bans, poor Goose…Top Gun has contributed as many memorable moments to pop culture has any film in the last 30 years. It’s easy to think of it as merely a cruise vehicle, but it’s also a Tony Scott joint.
2) True Romance
On the other hand, True Romance is a legitimately great movie. Released a year before Pulp Fiction, True Romance helped establish Quentin Tarantino’s reputation as one of the most fascinating young screenwriters in Hollywood. The film contains many of the elements that would ultimately make Pulp Fiction such a commercial hit and artistic influence: pop culture references, quick, profane and witty dialogue, and a comedic descent into the crime underworld.
Scott’s direction — while no match for Tarantino’s — is a perfect complement to the screenplay. In True Romance, more than in any of his other films, Scott has an intuitive sense of where to put the camera, when to move it, and when to sit still. If Tarantino weren’t such a great director himself, he could have developed a longterm Bernie Taupin/Elton John-style relationship with Scott.
The late Mr. Scott also managed to get immensely likable performances, including a number of career bests, from Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Bronson Pinchot, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini and many others. True Romance is one of the great, forgotten films of the 1990s.
And lest we think Scott was merely a two-trick pony, don’t forget that he also gave us this:
Scott was capable of phoning it in (Spy Game) and of creating truly execrable movies (Domino), but he was a beyond-serviceable action director who often made films that should have been mediocre slightly better than that (Unstoppable, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3). He didn’t leave us Citizen Kane or anything, but he was an important part of Hollywood cinema for more than 20 years.
And we would have done an awesome job filming his own jump from the bridge.