The Films of Tony Scott
Top Gun (January 11/10)
Watchable but rarely enthralling, Top Gun follows hotshot fighter pilot Maverick (Tom Cruise) as he arrives at an elite naval academy and subsequently finds himself confronted with a series of obstacles and scenarios (ie a rivalry with Val Kilmer's slick Iceman, a relationship with Kelly McGillis' sexy instructor, etc). There's little doubt that Top Gun's surprisingly plotless sensibilities result in an uneven vibe that persists from start to finish, with the film's inability to consistently hold the viewer's attention ultimately not quite as problematic as one might've feared - as Cruise's affable work is perpetuated by an irresistibly star-laden supporting cast that includes Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, and Meg Ryan. The episodic vibe subsequently ensures that Top Gun boasts an almost equal amount of superfluous and compelling moments, with the former exemplified by an impromptu volleyball game that surely stands as the film's most aggressively pointless interlude. The inclusion of several admittedly impressive flight sequences goes a long way towards compensating for the movie's less-than-consistent atmosphere, and although it's hard not to get a kick out of Maverick's ongoing banter with flying partner Goose (Edwards), Top Gun ultimately comes off as an empty exercise in style that's aged rather poorly in the years since its 1986 release.
Beverly Hills Cop II
Days of Thunder (January 5/08)
Incredibly uneven yet basically entertaining, Days of Thunder casts Tom Cruise as Cole Trickle - a hot-shot stock car driver who must overcome a series of obstacles to become the best within his field. Screenwriter Robert Towne has infused the proceedings with an unexpectedly erratic structure that results in a narrative that gracelessly lurches from one sequence to the next, as the emphasis is placed on a series of tenuously-connected mini-dramas revolving primarily around Cruise's character (ie his romance with Nicole Kidman's Claire, his rivalry-turned-friendship with Michael Rooker's Rowdy Burns, etc, etc). It's subsequently not surprising to note that the film's effectiveness tends to come in fits and starts, with the various racing sequences standing as an obvious highlight. The middling midsection proves a test to one's patience, however, and there's no getting around the feeling that Towne is simply spinning his wheels in the build-up to the admittedly thrilling climactic race. The impressive supporting cast - which includes, among others, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, and John C. Reilly - adds a fair amount of color to the proceedings, although Tony Scott's almost relentlessly dated directorial choices ensure that the movie remains very much a product of its time for the duration of its 107 minutes. And while it does go without saying that the film is probably immeasurably improved by a viewing on as big a screen as possible, Days of Thunder - despite the presence of several crowd-pleasing moments (ie the wheelchair race between Cole and Rowdy) - suffers from an egregiously stagnant sensibility that prevents it from living up to the promise of its popcorn-friendly premise.
The Last Boy Scout
The Last Boy Scout follows grizzled detective Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) as he's forced to work with a disgraced footballer (Damon Wayans' Jimmy Dix) to solve a murder, with the case growing more and more complicated as Joe and Jimmy uncover a conspiracy involving crooked politicians and businessmen. Though it's been infused with a blisteringly quick pace and a tremendous amount of style, The Last Boy Scout is never able to rise above the level of pervasive mediocrity for the duration of its overlong running time - with the most obvious problem the lack of chemistry between the two leads (which is compounded by the rather unlikable nature of both figures). Willis and Wayans' are essentially riffing on their well-established personas here and it is, as such, not surprising to note that neither actor is able to make a terribly positive impact, with the ensuing lack of momentum preventing one from wholeheartedly embracing the decidedly run-of-the-mill storyline. Filmmaker Tony Scott's typically flamboyant directorial choices ensure, at the very least, that The Last Boy Scout boasts a handful of engrossing action sequences, and it's worth noting, too, that the movie contains one of the more memorable central-villain deaths of the 1990s. In the end, though, The Last Boy Scout's inability to hold the viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time confirms its downfall and it's ultimately not difficult to see why it's considered one of Scott's least successful efforts.
Directed by Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino, True Romance follows comic-book geek Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) as he meets and falls for an affable prostitute named Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) - with the movie subsequently detailing the pair's ongoing efforts at selling the cocaine they stole from Alabama's pimp (Gary Oldman's Drexl Spivey). There's little doubt that True Romance gets off to an impressively captivating start, as Scott kicks the proceedings off with the irresistible meet-cute that ensues between Clarence and Alabama - with the palpable chemistry between the two actors effectively heightening the movie's compulsively watchable atmosphere. (It doesn't hurt, either, that Scott has peppered the film's supporting cast with a dense roster of familiar faces, with folks as varied as James Gandolfini, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, and Brad Pitt appearing in key supporting roles.) The film's palpably overlong running time is, as a result, not quite as problematic as one might've feared, as Scott effectively peppers the proceedings with a number of almost indelible moments and sequences (including Hopper's remarkably engrossing encounter with Walken's vicious gangster). By the time the unabashedly violent and over-the-top finale rolls around, True Romance has confirmed its place as a pulpy good time that holds up remarkably well two decades after its theatrical release - with the idealized yet heartfelt conclusion only perpetuating the movie's memorable feel.
The Fan (November 3/16)
Based on a book by Peter Abrahams, The Fan follows Robert De Niro's unhinged knife salesman Gil Renard as a series of personal misfortunes lead him to fixate entirely on a top-ranked baseball player (Wesley Snipes' Bobby Rayburn). There's ultimately little within The Fan worth getting wholeheartedly (or even partially) excited about, as the movie, for the most part, plays like a paint-by-numbers thriller that hits many of the touchstones one might've anticipated - with the decidedly less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by an absence of surprising (or even interesting) plot twists and a thoroughly lackadaisical sense of pacing (ie the film just drags for most of its overlong running time). The mediocre atmosphere is perpetuated by De Niro and Snipes' competent yet far-from-enthralling work here, although it's worth noting that the movie does display flashes of something better when it focuses on Gil and Bobby's respective downward spirals (ie this might've been more effective as a low-key character study, ultimately). It's perhaps not surprising to note that the faux-intense third act does the film absolutely no favors, with the anticlimactic and surprisingly interminable nature of this stretch ensuring that The Fan ends on as underwhelming a note as one could possibly envision - thus confirming the movie's place as a lesser entry within Scott's exceedingly erratic filmography.
Enemy of the State (August 12/06)
Distinctly uneven but generally entertaining, Enemy of the State casts Will Smith as Robert Dean - a Washington-based attorney who inadvertently finds himself at the center of a far-reaching conspiracy involving the murder of a well-known congressman. Director Tony Scott - working from David Marconi's screenplay - infuses the film with an expectedly kinetic sense of style, while producer Jerry Bruckheimer's presence can be felt in even the smallest moments (something that's particularly true of the random bits of quirkiness among the supporting characters). And although costar Gene Hackman - essentially reprising his Conversation role - acts circles around Smith, Smith's charisma and likeableness certainly go a long way towards engendering the viewer's empathy. But at a running time of almost two-and-a-half hours (!), there's simply no denying that Enemy of the State is right on the verge of being disastrously overlong (the inclusion of a needless third-act sting probably doesn't help matters, although it does lead into a ludicrous yet enjoyable climax that's oddly similar to the finale of Scott's True Romance). Still, the movie is - on the whole - an astonishingly fast-paced and sporadically intelligent thriller that's generally as mindlessly engaging as Bruckheimer undoubtedly intended.
Spy Game (November 22/01)
Set in 1991, Spy Game opens with Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) seemingly working undercover to rescue an unknown prisoner at a Chinese jail. He winds up captured, though, and scheduled to die in 24 hours. Meanwhile, at the CIA headquarters in Virginia, Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) is due for retirement the very next day. He finds out about Bishop's plight - Bishop just happens to be Muir's protégé - and quickly begins to surreptitiously gather as much information as he can. The majority of the film takes place in a CIA boardroom, with Muir regaling his colleagues with various tales of his and Bishop's many adventures together. It's the incessant use of flashbacks that sinks Spy Game, as a potentially intriguing concept - a rogue agent works from within the CIA's walls to free an overseas comrade - is frequently interrupted by pesky glances the central characters' past (with the majority of such moments hardly as interesting as director Tony Scott clearly believes them to be). But the main story of Muir working to help Bishop is an interesting one, and allows Redford the chance to be at his cocky and jocular best. This is the sort of character he excels at and Redford proves that age hasn't prevented him from continuing to play exceedingly charismatic characters. Pitt is good as well, playing a character that seems to be as close as he's willing to get to a matinee-idol type. At the helm of Spy Game is Scott, best known for other thrillers including Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State. The style of Spy Game is similar to those films - with flashy camera work and the use of different filters - but here it doesn't seem to work as well. His ADD-like approach to directing hinders the story from gaining any momentum, though that problem can mostly be attributed to the lackluster screenplay. Spy Game is marginally entertaining, admittedly, but given the caliber of talent in front of and behind the camera, marginally entertaining is very disappointing.
Man on Fire
Man on Fire is the film The Punisher should've been. Raw and unflinching, it's a gripping story of revenge that doesn't pull any punches - anchored by an electrifying performance from Denzel Washington. Director Tony Scott - never one to shy away from cinematic pyrotechnics - is particularly hyperactive here, pummeling the viewer with rapid cuts and various other Oliver Stone-esque camera tricks. But Scott's short attention span serves the story well, giving the film a slightly off-kilter feel (and effectively mirroring Washington's character's state of mind). The film's premise is straight-forward and direct, with Washington playing John Creasy - an ex-mercenary hired to protect the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Obviously, something goes wrong at a certain point, and Creasy finds himself forced to revive his long-since dormant military training for revenge purposes. Supporting roles are filled by reliable character actors including Christopher Walken (playing a longtime friend of Creasy's) and Mickey Rourke (as a sleazy lawyer, a character he inhabits with ease). About the only negative thing one can say about Man On Fire - aside from the overlong running time, which doesn't feel terribly oppressive - is that it takes an awfully long time to get used to Scott's over-the-top directorial choices (if at all). Certain plot points are somewhat obvious (ie Creasy's relationship with the girl goes from purely business to father figure awfully fast), but such things are expected out of a movie like this. What really matters is whether or not we believe Creasy's attachment to Pita (Dakota Fanning), the girl, and there's no denying that the film excels in that regard. Brian Helgeland's screenplay allows for an unusual amount of character development - it's around an hour before anything sinister happens - which gives us ample time to watch the two characters interact with each other. But when the bad stuff does go down, Creasy's sudden change from cuddly teddy bear to violent man-with-a-mission is completely believable. Like Payback, another Helgeland scripted story, Man on Fire proves to be surprisingly brutal when it comes to onscreen violence. And because we're just as angry as Creasy, it's hard not to root for the man - even when he's stuffing bombs up the rear ends of perpetrators. The single-mindedness of Washington's character propels the story forward, even though the plot essentially vanishes somewhere around the one-hour mark; once the movie becomes about revenge, that's literally all it's about. There's some stuff about police corruption and a journalist that provides Creasy with info, but really, the film devotes itself to Creasy's quest. Man on Fire is entering a marketplace that's crowded with similar films - ie The Punisher, Walking Tall, and Kill Bill: Volume 2 - and though it's not quite up there with the latter, it's surely far better than the former two titles. Washington convincingly sheds his nice guy image to become this gritty character (a character that's far less charismatic than Alonzo Harris, his Training Day persona), delivering a performance that's far different from anything he's done before. It's a film that will likely turn off a lot of viewers - primarily because of Scott's direction and the unforgiving nature of the story - but for those willing to stick with it, Man on Fire is one of the more intelligent and compelling thrillers to come around in a good long while.
Deja Vu (November 21/06)
After the rampant excess of Domino - Tony Scott's all-but-unwatchable 2005 actioner - the filmmaker has thankfully done away with most of his over-the-top stylistic tendencies and instead infused Deja Vu with a comparatively toned-down vibe that's reminiscent of past efforts such as Enemy of the State and Crimson Tide. And while the movie is consistently entertaining and surprisingly intelligent, there's no denying that it would've been better served with a much shorter running time (at 128 minutes, the film is at least a half hour longer than it needs to be). Deja Vu opens with a deadly explosion aboard a New Orleans ferry that leaves hundreds dead, with the ensuing investigation catching the interest of brilliant ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington). After immediately spotting clues overlooked by his peers, Doug catches the attention of a mysterious fed named Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) and soon finds himself caught up in a time-bending probe of the tragedy. Working from Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio's screenplay (the latter of whom has evidently started the slow process of redeeming himself for the interminable Pirates of the Caribbean series), Scott and cinematographer Paul Cameron have infused Deja Vu with precisely the sort of slick sensibility that viewers have come to expect from a Jerry Bruckheimer production. To their credit, both Scott and Bruckheimer have resisted the temptation to pepper the admittedly talky screenplay with a series of needless action sequences - ensuring that such moments can't help but come off as engrossing and genuinely exciting when they do arrive. The eclectic supporting cast - consisting of such familiar faces as Adam Goldberg, Matt Craven, and Bruce Greenwood - plays a substantial part in the film's success, though there's little doubt that most of these characters are straight out of the Jerry Bruckheimer playbook (Goldberg's wisecracking tech whiz is a perfect example of this). Washington delivers as expectedly charismatic a performance as one might've expected, while Jim Caviezel makes for an appropriately sinister villain. The film's time-traveling elements - which appear to be, on first glance, entirely nonsensical - seem to hold up fairly well to scrutiny, with the end result an entirely entertaining piece of escapist fare.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
The fourth (and least effective) collaboration between Denzel Washington and Tony Scott, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 follows a gang of ruthless terrorists (led by John Travolta’s Ryder) as they hijack a New York City subway train and hold the various passengers for ransom - with beleaguered dispatcher Walter Garber (Washington) inevitably establishing himself as the only man on the outside with whom Ryder will communicate. Though scripter Brian Helgeland retains many of the beats and plot twists from John Godey's engrossing novel, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is ultimately unable to match its 1974 cinematic predecessor in terms of thrills and excitement - as the pronounced emphasis on Ryder and Garber's ongoing radio conversations results in a lack of momentum that persists for much of the movie's overlong running time. This is despite expectedly superb work from Washington; the actor, cast as the film's surprisingly non-heroic protagonist, does a nice job of transforming his schlub of a character into a figure the viewer can't help but root for, while the eclectic supporting cast - which includes John Turturro, James Gandolfini, and Luis Guzman - adds a fair amount of color to the proceedings (Travolta, on the other hand, offers up an increasingly over-the-top performance that becomes awfully tough to take). Scott's relatively toned-down directorial choices - his head-scratching obsession with choppy slow motion notwithstanding - ensure that The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 generally holds the viewer's interest from start to finish, yet - given the caliber of the filmmaker's previous partnerships with Washington - it's difficult not to feel just a tinge of disappointment at the final product's less-than-enthralling nature.
Inspired by true events, Unstoppable follows an experienced engineer (Denzel Washington's Frank Barnes) and a green conductor (Chris Pine's Will Colson) as they attempt to stop a runaway freight train before it derails in or near a major city - with their efforts compounded by a variety of outside forces (including interference from a penny-pinching group of executives, led by Kevin Dunn's Galvin). It's a decidedly thin premise that's employed to entertaining (if unspectacular) effect by director Tony Scott, as the filmmaker, working from Mark Bomback's screenplay, does a nice job of establishing the gritty (and surprisingly authentic) environment within which the various characters reside. It's clear, however, that Washington and Pine deserve the lion's share of praise for the film's success, with the palpable chemistry between their respective characters ensuring that Unstoppable is often at its best when just focused on Frank and Will's conversations and, eventually, efforts at stopping that train. Having said that, Scott has certainly sprinkled the proceedings with a number of palpably thrilling scenes and interludes - with the highlight undoubtedly a tense sequence in which Will attempts to couple a stand-alone engine to the out-of-control locamotive. The end result is a consistently watchable thriller that gets the job done quickly and efficiently, which cements Unstoppable's place as one of Scott's more successful endeavors as of late.