I am sure that you are all aware that on Sunday 19th August, director Tony Scott jumped to his death in the San Pedro port district of Los Angeles. There is still a great deal of mystery surrounding the North Tyneside-born director’s suicide, details that may take months to reveal themselves, hell, we may never know. To commemorate his death, I was going to do My Top Five Tony Scott movies, when it soon became apparent to me that I had only seen about five of his films; Man On Fire, Top Gun, Unstoppable, Enemy of the State and Domino. Therefore, it wouldn’t really have been a Top Five list, it would have been the only five. True Romance and The Last Boy Scout are two of those films where I’ve never been too sure if I’ve actually seen them all the way through. Such a fact has inspired me to visit Scott’s complete filmography, all 16 of his features. It could take a good two weeks to finish this post, but I think it could be an interesting endeavor, as Scott had a very interesting career as a director. He only had the occasional box-office hit, and most of his films were panned by critics; many often claiming him to place style over substance. He was a director with an undeniable visual flair, and I shall be addressing whether the critics had him right or wrong; did he place style over substance? If so, is that such a bad thing if the film supplies impressive and enjoyable entertainment? So, in no particular order, lets revisit Scott, and may he rest in peace.
Day One- True Romance (1990)
To answer one question; no, I had not seen True Romance all the way through before today. I remembered a great deal of the opening, and the electrifying scene between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken, but how does it work as a whole experience? True Romance is a high benchmark to start a review of Tony Scott’s career, as I doubt there’s going to be a film that tops it. Quite how this was one of Scott’s flops on release is beyond my comprehension. Benefiting from an incredibly trademark Quentin Tarantino script, Scott has brilliant fun portraying the sadistic, yet strangely genuine romance between Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette). Perhaps more well-known for constructing excellent action sequences (the gun fights here are exceptional) what is truly worth experiencing True Romance for is the wonderful work Scott weans from his ensemble of actors. The cast is incredible, featuring bizarre yet committed turns from the likes of Gary Oldman and Brad Pitt, and hugely memorable cameo performances from the aforementioned Walken and Hopper. Slater and Arquette totally convince as the star-crossed lovers, whose love is thrown into an underworld of drugs, Sicilian gangsters and drug-dealing movie producers. Filled with the standard witty Tarantino pop culture references, Scott never allows the narrative to lose focus on the tale of its two, rather psychotic, leads. The cinematography has a hazy grit to it, as all Scott’s early movies did, painting a realistic, yet also fantastical world, helped by Hans Zimmer’s brilliantly naive and whimsical score. In the debate of style over substance, substance and style strike a perfect balance here, in what is a fantastic pop-culture, thriller romance that I highly recommend!
Day Two- The Hunger (1983)
Well, after viewing what many consider to be the high point of Mr. Scott’s career yesterday in the form of True Romance, I think I may have just found the lowest point; his first full-length feature, The Hunger. Another flop for Scott on its release (although this time it is not hard to see why) The Hunger has found new life as a very strange cult movie (again, not hard to see why). How best to describe it? It is a vampire movie, but not in the conventional sense. These are not the kind of vampires whose teeth grow sharp and bite on down your neck. The vampires here slit their victim’s throats and feast on their blood, somewhat more realistic, yet there is still something undeniably supernatural about them. Namely the fact that they are immortal. Or so you think. Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie are the blood thirsty partners, and make for a pair of strangely attractive and hypnotic leads. So far, so psychedelically 80’s good. When all of a sudden Bowie starts to rapidly age. Don’t ask me why. For Deneuve’s vampire, this is nothing new, and she embarks on finding a new partner. She finds potential in Susan Sarandon’s Doctor, who is doing research on ageing defects in humans. This plays absolutely no part into proceedings. There’s a lesbian sex scene at some point. Bowie becomes a zombie. There are some doves. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. Seriously, this whole movie just feels like an extended Gothic-esque music video; a very beautiful music video, but an utterly empty and bizarre one. Deneuve certainly gets your spine-tingling, but the script simply does not make enough sense for you to feel truly sorry for her, or to be intimidated by her for that matter. Bowie is barely given enough time to impress, in a role which is essentially an extended cameo. The make-up work is very impressive, as is the music, and there are certainly signs of Scott’s visual flair. The atmosphere is unsettling, cold, effective, but at the same time rather generic, what with creeping violins and billowing curtains. Just what this movie is trying to be is beyond me. It is far too arty to be a horror film, yet too gratuitous to be an art film. It really is an oddity. A hard film to recommend, as it is not a very good film by any means, but it is incredibly interesting in terms of Scott’s career. And, in some ways, it is worth seeing if only to experience how peculiar it really is.
Day Three- Top Gun (1986) and Days of Thunder (1990)
Day three, and it consisted of a double dose of the Cruiser. Tony Scott was actively working with Cruise on a sequel to their first collaboration, Top Gun, a mere two weeks before his death, which makes the viewing of Top Gun somewhat bittersweet, knowing that the sequel is more than likely no longer going to happen. Top Gun is perhaps the film that Scott shall mostly be remembered for. It is a pure example of what was both great and terrible about Hollywood pictures in the 1980’s. It has that infectious, cheesy spirit at its centre, a rock and roll soundtrack and ridiculously convenient plot developments. Cruise is at his most memorable here, effortlessly giving Naval Fighter Pilot Maverick Mitchel an air of arrogance and impressive competence. Re-watching Top Gun, two things instantly stand out. One, is the really rather glaring homo-eroticism on display here. I know people do make a lot of jokes about it, but some moments in this movie are really quiet homoerotic. It can’t be attributed to male bonding, it simply is just too gay, and I’m not just talking about that volleyball game. Oh well, each to their own. What is more impressive than the script, thankfully, is Scott’s skill in shooting the action of the fighter jets. It truly shows his great craft as a director of action sequences, as many action movies following Top Gun tried, and failed to match the sheer excitement of his action sequences. What is important about them is that the sequences are real; those are real jets doing the hair-raising stunts, and they still seriously impress, even by today’s standards. Rarely has an advert for the US Military been so exciting. And Kenny Loggins is awesome.
Days of Thunder, Scott’s second collaboration with Cruise and producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer following the huge of success of Top Gun, tries to recapture what made that movie such a success, for better and for worse. Days of Thunder adheres far too closely to the Top Gun rule-book; by which I mean, it offers outstanding action sequences but is rather weak and incredibly corny when it comes to the bits in-between. The acting is commendable enough, Cruise is, well, Cruise, and Robert Duvall is strong support as his driving mentor. Nicole Kidman doesn’t impress too much as the Doctor-come-love-interest, as she is evidently uncomfortable in her first Hollywood role. Although it is rather funny to see how short Cruise is compared to her. What is noticeably impressive about Days of Thunder is its sound design. The cars boom and rattle your bones, you feel every bit of the race thanks to the incredibly detailed sound mixing and design, Scott and his team evidently spent a lot of time trying to perfect the editing of the sound to truly create a unique experience into the world of NASCAR racing. That is another achievement of this movie, it managed to make NASCAR seem interesting, namely because of the well-paced editing during the racing sequences. Scott certainly knew how to get the audience’s blood pumping, no matter what the subject matter. Both of these films are less visually interesting than True Romance and The Hunger, but they throughly impress through their gritty, real and hard hitting action sequences. And you cannot fault an awesome synthesized soundtrack.
Day Four- Beverly Hills Cop 2 (1987)
Scott certainly must have had many a script offer following his success with Top Gun. At the end of the day, Top Gun‘s producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer managed to convince their new favourite director to take the reigns of a flourishing franchise, Beverly Hills Cop. The first installment was a huge success, and Simpson and Bruckheimer wanted a director they could trust, and Scott had proven his worth. Beverly Hills Cop 2 is perhaps the least visually interesting of the films I have watched so far, but it is not the sort of film that requires that much style. It is an incredibly entertaining movie, one of those classic 80’s action movies that buzzes with energy, thanks namely to its 80’s sensibilities and a cast who are quite obviously having the time of their lives. The plot doesn’t seem to make much sense, you simply enjoy spending time with these characters and enjoy the action and snappy dialogue. Eddie Murphy was on the top of his game, and Axel Foley is one of his more assured and less irritating roles. Scott was somewhat cautious about working with a big star like Murphy, but his assured direction seems to keep Murphy reigned in. And the Beverly Hills Cop secret weapon has and always shall be Judge Reinhold’s Billy Rosewood. He is absolutely crazy and remains a highly entertaining and memorable 80’s sidekick. Beverly Hills Cop 2 is the sort of fun, edgy, and ridiculous buddy cop movie that only the 80’s could have been responsible for producing. It may not be Scott’ s strongest work in terms of its visual pallet, but it once again shows his confidence with working with big named stars. An attribute that he never lost.
Day Five- The Last Boy Scout (1991)
Another brilliant movie from Scott here, and one that does not rely on style, as Scott allows the fantastic script to speak for itself, whilst competently directing exciting action sequences, giving the film a great sense of pace and character. On paper, this film should have been a massive hit upon its release. Tony Scott was coming off the back of a string of hits, namely Top Gun , Beverly Hills Cop and Days of Thunder; Bruce Willis was huge following Die Hard; and the script was written by Shane Black, who had just come off the back of the also-produced by Joel Silver action movie Lethal Weapon. But, unfortunately, it did not perform very well at all, but soon gained a faithful following once it found its way on to VHS. It is a surprising flop, as it has the workings of a hugely successful action movie, that could have easily have had a franchise, as Willis’ down-trodden, self-loathing Detective teams up with down-on-his-luck Football Star Damon Wayans to solve a murder conspiracy, that of course, goes up higher than either of them could have ever imagined. Black’s script is wickedly cynical, and has some fantastic one-liners (“You’ve gotta be the craziest guy I know; you’re trying to save the life of the man who ruined your career, and avenge the life of the guy that was fucking your wife” is a personal favourite of mine). Willis is on brilliant, bad-ass form, Joe being one of his stronger action-heroes outside of a grubby vest. Wayans as well proves to be an effective member of an enjoyable double team, making this a better example of a Hollywood Buddy-action movie. It is a film that once again displays Scott’s talent for getting strong performances from big name stars, and also an example of how he had an eye for a great script, reigning in his own style to allow the strong material to shine through his actors. This is definitely True Romance territory, and they are easily the two best films that I have come across so far in this retrospective overview.
Day Six- Revenge (1990) and The Fan (1996)
Unwittingly, I did a Tony Scott/John Leguizamo double bill with these two films; Revenge and The Fan, two of Scott’s lesser known and most unsuccessful movies, both critically and commercially. The film I started the day with was the Kevin Costner thriller, Revenge. And it is a bad film. If it wasn’t for some rather handsome shots within its Mexican backdrop, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this wasn’t a Scott film, rather the work of a run of the mill hack director. Once again, like The Hunger, it is a film that leaves many an incoherent gap, and is bizarre and dreary in its subject matter. Costner plays an ex-jet fighter pilot (yes, it starts like Top Gun) who goes on holiday to Mexico, where he has a friend (quite how they’re friends in never truly explained). His friend (Anthony Quinn) is an elderly powerful businessman (or politician, again, that is never quite clear) who values trust, and does not take too kindly to betrayal. Which doesn’t work out too well for our friend Kevin, who falls for his bad Mexican friend’s beautiful young wife. Once Quinn finds out, he leaves Costner for dead and puts his pretty wife in a whorehouse. Once recovered, Costner teams up with two Mexicans (one of them being Leguizamo, who doesn’t say anything throughout the course of the film) to get…REVENGE. Costner is hard to buy as a bad-ass seeking revenge, although his love scenes with Madeline Stowe do have a sizzle, and the two definitely have sexual chemistry. But, once again aside from some rather beautiful shots, the film is poorly paced, and I watched the Director’s Cut, the original cut was over two hours! The violence is rather effective but it is clearly used as a shock tactic, as it is rather un-stylized. A disappointing blip on Scott’s career; it is fundamentally clear that his heart was not into this project, from its dull start, to its thoroughly depressing end.
The better of the two films today was still a rather disappointing effort from Scott, as it is a rather cliched paranoid thriller with a rather dull performance from Robert De Niro. De Niro plays Gil, a down-on-his-luck, yet rather obsessive Baseball fan. He cares greatly about his son, but his wife is frightened by him , and he is very close to losing his job as a knife salesman. His only grace in life is his love of the beautiful game, namely his admiration for the Giants newest player Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes). Soon enough, his admiration becomes something much more disturbing and dangerous, as Gil decides to take matters into his own hands when Rayburn starts to go through a rough patch. As far as psychological thrillers go, this doesn’t offer anything new, apart from giving a rather deranged look into mind of a fanatic. De Niro could do this role in his sleep, and you get the feeling he is at times, yet Scott does what he can to crank the tension. There is some very sharp editing on display, and in one scene during a confrontation between De Niro and Snipes, he employs a great use of close-ups to create a paranoid sense of claustrophobia. However, these moments are far and few in-between. Snipes impresses as the earnest Baseball superstar, holding his own against De Niro, and Leguizamo actually gets to speak in this one, but the film takes far too much time building up the tension between the pair. And although the final act is ludicrous, it is still rather satisfying, as this is what the whole film has been building up to. It is a shame then, that the ending once again falls back on cliches and predictability, resulting in a very generic and un-original psychological thriller.
Day Seven- Crimson Tide (1995)
I know I promised a double-bill today, but it was far too nice to stay in and watch films (I know, even I am saying that). So, for today, I only have my views on Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State shall follow tomorrow. Crimson Tide is one of Scott’s most successful films both commercially and critically. And it thoroughly deserves all the praise that it gets. Crimson Tide is an effective post-Cold War thriller, clearly showing that nuclear tensions still run high. Denzel Washington works with Scott for the first time here as Lieutenant Commander Hunter, who joins the crew of the U.S.S. Alabama, following a Rebel takeover in Russia, that threatens to throw the world into World War Three. On board, he clashes with the ship’s Captain (Gene Hackman) and the two collide when an incredibly important decision has to be made, and if the wrong choice is made, it could bring about a Nuclear Holocaust. No pressure then. Crimson Tide is one of Scott’s most effective thrillers, as it grabs you from the very start, and doesn’t let you go until its utterly gripping ending. The editing is masterful, the sound design faultless, the score pulse-pounding (another Hans Zimmer masterpiece) and the cinematography stunning. Working with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (the man who shot the Pirates movies, and Prometheus for one), Scott uses the restrictions of the submarine setting to his advantage; close quarters create nerve-shredding claustrophobia, the bold colourful lighting from the machines creates an ominous atmosphere, and wonderfully involving tracking shots create a sense of urgency through the long corridors of the U.S.S. Alabama. It is also incredibly entertaining to see two heavyweight actors go a few rounds in the form of Washington and Hackman. It is hard call the winner, as Washington remains strong and dignified, while Hackman is a tough as nails Captain, who perhaps deserves whats coming to him. It is a thrilling action picture, that not only gets the pulse racing but gets the mind working too, as you are also forced to question the moral dilemma’s that face Denzel and Gene. What decision would you make? Another highly recommended movie, that strikes a chord between style and substance!
Day Eight- Enemy of the State (1998)
Two top-notch thrillers from Tony Scott, two days on the trot. I am on a roll! I will not lie to you, the Scott marathon is getting tiring, trying to make sure I watch one a day (going to struggle this weekend, so I may be taking a hiatus as I am going away), but it is movies like this and Crimson Tide that make it worthwhile. I remember seeing Enemy of the State when I was about 9 years-old, and not really understanding it. I must have been a pretty slow 9 year-old, as it isn’t a hard film to grasp. It is intelligent, yes, but the general plot-line is nothing too taxing. Will Smith plays Bobby Dean, a happily married Attorney who finds himself embroiled in a Government conspiracy, as he unwittingly winds up with a tape showing an National Security Agency official (Jon Voight) assassinating a Congressman. The NSA use all the tricks at their disposal to ruin Dean’s life in an attempt to force him to give up the tape that he doesn’t know he possesses. Forced to go on the run, Dean teams up with an ex-NSA agent (Gene Hackman) to uncover the conspiracy and get his life back. Once again, Enemy of the State demonstrates Scott’s unique style of direction when it comes action; quick rapid editing, canted angles, a vast variety of different shots, all designed to excite and involve the viewer. The tone of the movie is fantastically well developed. It is a high-tech conspiracy thriller that would not be out of place in the 1970’s; the decade of paranoid conspiracy thrillers. It does push the boundaries of how much of the technology is grounded in reality, but at times you get so wrapped up in the conspiracy that you begin to worry just how much the government really does know about our individual private lives. The cast is also on fine form; Will Smith does well to prove himself as a dramatic actor; Hackman is given a more layered role then what he had in Crimson Tide, and Jon Voight also makes a decidedly smarmy villain. Also keep an eye out for the likes of Jason Lee, Jack Black and Seth Green. Yet another superior thriller from Mr. Tony Scott that would make a very entertaining double-bill with, say, Crimson Tide.
Day Nine- Spy Game (2001)
Back to the Tony Scott movies after a weekend away! With five left, I think I can safely say that I will finish the retrospect by the end of this week. I have thoroughly enjoyed looking back over his varied career, and the most recent run of films has been brilliant, and Spy Game can easily join the ranks of Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State. Set in 1991, CIA Operative Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) is taken prisoner in a Chinese Prison Camp for espionage. Back in Langley, Bishop’s old mentor Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) is about to begin his last day working for the CIA, but he decides to put everything on the line to save his protege. Through the course of the film, as Muir tries to buy Bishop sometime, he tells the story of how the pair met and their resulting relationship, from Vietnam to the Lebanon war. The story is very involving and the flashbacks do a great deal to establish character, and Redford and Pitt make for excellent lead pair, seeing as Pitt is essentially our generations Redford (they look eerily similar as well). The story becomes much more convoluted as it progresses, but it remains involving, largely due to the fact that you want to try and figure it all out and see quite what the outcome will be. It is an intelligent and sophisticated espionage movie, that makes for an effective spy thriller double with Enemy of the State. It also marks Scott’s second collaboration with cinematographer Dan Mindel, following Enemy of the State, and the two effectively establish a distinctive look; visceral yet bold with colour (the Vietnam flashback is brilliantly shot). It is a style of film-making that is incredibly synonymous with Scott, and was somewhat employed by his brother for Black Hawk Down, released in the same year. Spy Game I personally think is the better of the two films; more sophisticated, focused and better performed. Once again, a superior thriller from Mr. Scott.
Day Ten- Domino (2005)
Another movie from Tony Scott that I had seen before embarking upon this feature; the action? thriller? black comedy? The strange concoction, lets say, that is Domino. Scott, with a script from Richard Donnie Darko Kelly, presents to us the sort of but not really true story of the real-life female bounty hunter, Domino Harvey, the daughter of actor Lawrence Harvey, and all out hell raiser. Keira Knightley plays the archaic young woman, who embarks upon the dangerous world of bounty hunting in yet another way to rebel against her privileged background. The first time I saw Domino, I remember being incredibly confused but also very impressed with the style of the movie. But particularly in retrospect of Scott’s whole (or majority of) career, it is one of his movies where the style is perhaps too much. Domino is one of the weaker movies from Scott’s filmography, namely because substance and style fail to make a potent enough mix. For one, Kelly’s script is incredibly incoherent and very scattered, and in some way it feels deliberate, it order to capture the archaic and frenzied nature of Domino’s life, who sadly passed away months before the film was released. Scott once again works with Dan Mindel, and his style can only be described as Tony Scott. But Tony Scott on acid. The colours are bright and vivid, yet he maintains a strongly visceral sense of environment. But the camerawork and editing is far too rapid and disorienting in this case. You constantly feel distant from the proceedings; the film never allows you to get too close to any of the characters (reflecting Domino’s own M.O. of not getting too attached to anyone or anything in life). It is clear to see what Scott and Kelly are trying to achieve; a subversive , unusual take on the biopic genre, but it ultimately is too convoluted to make much sense, and they end up failing to engage as effectively as they could have. Knightley impresses, as does Mickey Rourke, but there is not enough attention given to anyone, particularly Domino herself. It is a wild, sexy, mess of a movie, perhaps a perfect reflection on Domino herself. Scott’s style however does not do any favors to the already fractured script. Although I am pretty sure that Domino Harvey would have been satisfied with the film’s rather unique archaic and visceral spirit.
Day Eleven- Man On Fire (2004)
Another Tony Scott movie that I had seen before embarking on this retrospective feature, but one I remember more fondly then Domino. And for good reason. Marking his second collaboration with Denzel Washington, Scott presents here a hard-hitting, brutal and very emotional revenge thriller. Something that Costner failed to do. Denzel plays ex-CIA operative John Creasy, who is hired as a bodyguard for the nine year-old daughter of a Mexican Businessman in Mexico City. At first, Creasy remains cold and detached, but is slowly thawed by the charms of the girl he’s been hired to protect, Pita (Dakota Fanning). Together, the two form a unique bond; with Pita giving Creasy a new reason to live, and Creasy helping Pita to excel in swimming. Soon enough though, Pita is kidnapped by unknown assailants, who leave Creasy for dead. Once he is recovered, Creasy embarks on a hell-bent mission of revenge, as he goes out to find Pita’s kidnappers, and kill anyone responsible. The first hour or so of the movie rides through entirely on the chemistry between Washington and Fanning, who have a genuinely sweet natured relationship that completely pulls you in. Fanning displays a wonderful air of maturity and wisdom in her performance, putting in a performance far beyond her years, and I am yet to see her do better. Washington is his usual dignified self, yet here, he effectively combines both his lovable giant persona with the gritty unrelenting determination that characterizes his performances in the likes of Training Day. Scott’s frenzied, kinetic style is pushed to its limits (limits that Domino pushed too far) in this movie, as the high-key strobe effect lighting threatens to distract from the content at times. But he certainly knows how to present visceral action, as he drags us along on Creasy’s mission, effectively injecting the ferocity of Creasy’s anger into the spirit and minds of the audience. We certainly do not think any less of him for wanting to exact pain on the individuals responsible for Pita’s kidnapping. Another highly recommended thriller from Mr. Scott, and with only three movies left, and all being Washington movies, they should hopefully be in the same ball park.
Day Twelve: Deja Vu (2006)
We are nearing the end of my Scott retrospect, and the last movies of his career all starred Denzel Washington. A fine actor, who has constantly proved himself to be a commanding and charismatic screen presence, even in the most ludicrous of scenarios. Which proves quite handy in this case. Deja Vu is one of those high concept Sci-Fi action movies that dresses itself up as very intelligent, but when you really dig into the concept, it is simply built around a dumb, but ultimately cool concept. The plot runs as such; Denzel plays Doug Carlin, an ATF agent who is brought in to investigate a recent terrorist attack on a Ferry in New Orleans. Soon enough, he is roped in to a secret government program, code-named ‘Snow White’, that uses a new science to allow people to look back four days into the past. Whilst using this technology to simply observe the events preceding the attack, Doug soon begins to learn that there is more behind this new science then he originally thought, namely that it involves wormholes and time travel. And sure enough, as the investigation to find the terrorist draws to a close, Doug begins to suspect that the ‘Snow White’ can be used for so much more, namely to prevent the attack itself from ever happening. As with any movie that involves complicated time-travel, not everything entirely makes sense, creating not so much giant plot holes as giant paradoxes. Scott reigns in his style somewhat here, as not to distract from the rather, once again, convoluted story. It is easy to keep track, but if you do begin to question the certain logistics of its time travel conceit, like I did, then it does begin to unravel in its final act. However, Washington does his best to sell us this concept, initially sharing in the audiences disbelief, but soon becoming wrapped up in its possibilities as his determination to save a beautiful girl drives him to realise the ‘Snow White’s’ full potential. The love interest subplot involving Paula Patton’s Claire feels rather shoehorned, but it is a noble attempt to install some emotion into the high-concept driven movie. Source Code seems to have borrowed certain aspects from this concept, but certainly improved upon it (namely because it thought out its paradoxes). Scott seems to be very much on sleeper mode with his direction in this movie; the cinematography is not as interesting compared to his previous movies, and the camerawork is not as inventive or as involving. It is as if he is relying on the script, which isn’t as strong as he may have originally thought. Thankfully though, it is an entertaining enough Sci-Fi action movie that, thanks to Washington’s charming performance, certainly keeps you interested until its conclusion.
Day Thirteen: The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
The penultimate movie of Scott’s career, the first of a double-bill of train associated movies, also marks the first and only time the director ever produced a remake. The film in question is The Taking of Pelham 123, a 1970’s action thriller starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. Denzel and John Travolta take over the roles here in what proves to be a somewhat unremarkable action thriller, but an entertaining one none the less. Good old Denzel plays Walter (a nod to the original) Garber, an MTA officer who monitors traffic within New York’s subways. When a train, Pelham 123, is over-run by terrorists and thrown into a hostage situation, Walter must negotiate with the mastermind behind the crime, known only as Ryder (Travolta), who has asked for $10 million to be delivered to him by 3:13pm. And for every minute over the deadline, he will kill one of the hostages. With time not on his side, Walter must step up to the plate and buy as much time as he can to save the hostages, all the while playing a cat and mouse game with Ryder over an intercom microphone. For most of the films’ running time, the action is restricted to the back and forth between Walter and Ryder in their two separate locations; the MTA headquarters and the train. That may not sound particularly exciting, but thanks to the manic performance from Travolta, and the once again very driven performance from Washington, aided with a witty and surprising script, the scenes entertain enough to keep the audience’s interest afloat. It is when we are removed from this back and forth that the films weaknesses shine through. Scott’s kinetic action style tries to bring in urgency to the already rather tense set up of the ticking clock (and after Spy Game and Deja Vu, it would seem that Scott rather liked a ticking clock motif), and the action that Scott supplies just comes off as unnecessary and rather shoehorned. It also features some of the worst police escort driving that I have ever seen. The climax as well results in a rather predictable sense of plotting as Scott and his scriptwriters take the action out of the train. You know how all this is going to unfold from the very start; it offers nothing particularly new to the ticking clock scenario and does lack the style that some of the more superior Scott thrillers were characterized by. So, as Scott’s untimely penultimate film, it is a very by-the-numbers affair, that while entertaining, is not the roller-coaster train-ride that perhaps the premise alludes to. Maybe he was saving it all for Unstoppable.
Day Fourteen: Unstoppable (2010)
The fourteenth, and final, day of my Tony Scott remembrance feature. Scott’s final movie is rather aptly titled Unstoppable, as it works as a rather suitable label for Scott’s career. His films had a great kinetic energy that made them feel as if they were unstoppable in their nature, no matter what their quality, there was always the sense that they had a furious drive behind them. And the man at the wheel was Tony Scott. It is also rather fitting that this movie turned out to be Scott’s last, as it represents all of Scott’s talents as a director. Denzel once again stars alongside Chris Pine, as two train conductors who find themselves tasked with the responsibility of finding a way to slow down a run-away train that is dragging some explosive materials behind it. Running out of options and time, the two conductors must do all they can to stop the train before it enters a populated area. Scott creates a brilliant sense of pace, as the film very much moves like a train; starting slow but building up a hefty head of steam as it drives full throttle to its break neck finale. It does take a while to get going, but once it does, it proves to be yet another gripping action thriller from Scott. The final act is astoundingly intense as our two heroes attempts to stop the train go right down to the wire. Denzel and Pine make for a charming pair; granted their character’s relationship is built upon the cliche of rookie conductor and experienced veteran. Unstoppable demonstrates a great deal of remarkable craftsmanship when it comes to its rail based action. Once again, Scott’s action benefits from its authenticity; practical action always wins out over CGI creations when it comes to presenting a gritty and authentic scenario. The sound design is once again flawless, the trains rattle the bones as much as the cars did in Days Of Thunder, the train is given a great air of antagonism thanks entirely to the sound design. As it’s gunning down the tracks there is a sense that it has a purpose, adding much more urgency and threat to the proceedings. Unstoppable represents what makes a great Scott action movie; gritty realism, heart-pounding editing, kinetic camerawork, stunning cinematography, engaging performances, and all executed with great skill. It is definitely not as good as the likes of Crimson Tide in the action thriller stakes, and it is not as good a film as True Romance and The Last Boy Scout, as they truly benefit from character, not concept, driven scripts. It is a perfectly fine end to both this feature and Scott’s career, as it proved to be one of his biggest success both commercially and critically, warranting an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I am very happy to end this feature on a movie that I would happily recommend.
The details behind Tony Scott’s death are still shrouded in mystery; what quite inspired the director to take his own life is still not clear. He had many projects lined up, many that I would have loved to have seen, be it the planned Top Gun sequel or the long-gestating thriller Potsdamer Platz. He was a director whose style has influenced many a modern young filmmaker, Edgar Wright and Joe Carnahan have both expressed their admiration of Scott’s work, and their films certainly show signs of Scott’s distinct visual flair. He was a director who gave Hollywood a great deal, and still had much more to give. It is with this sentence, and with this brilliant and touching tribute video, that I bid adieu to this feature and say R.I.P. once again to Mr. Scott. An unstoppable directing force who shall be greatly missed.