I am the Antichrist. You got me in a vendetta kinda mood. You tell the angels in Heaven you never saw evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you.
True Romance is a strange movie and a damnably inconsistent one. It has a great script by Tarantino and a parade of guest stars who all get a moment to shine before they’re shuffled out of the film so we can spend more time with Christian Slater, which is, I think, the film’s main misstep. Slater doesn’t really have the chops for this part. He’s not a horrible actor by a stretch, but I don’t think he has the necessary charisma to hold the center of this film. Tony Scott’s direction is also less than it should be. Even as early as 1994’s Pulp Fiction, Tarantino had a definite style of direction and I think this movie would have been better had it been directed by Tarantino instead of Scott. Scott is overly flashy and, unlike Tarantino, has no concept of simply letting a scene spool out in a natural, unhurried way.
But these problems are minor. Yes, the fact that the lead actor and the director are both mediocre is only a small problem, believe it or not. Because when this movie works, it works like crazy. Gary Oldman makes the most of a tiny role as a psychotic pimp; he’s near unrecognizable and genuinely doing some of his best work ever. Christopher Walken also has a one scene appearance and it is, again, one of the best scenes of his entire career. Dennis Hopper is appealingly blue-collar and he’s a big reason why the Walken scene is as good as it is. It’s a complicated scene, but Walken & Hopper knock it right out of the park. But here’s one problem: both the Oldman scene and the Walken/Hopper scene come well before the half-point of the movie and there’s nothing in the rest of the movie really even half as good as those two scenes, which pulls the film off balance and makes it feel a bit long.
Patricia Arquette is really wonderful in her lead role, exuding energy, sincerity and passion in all the right ways. She makes her character, a fairly absurd one, feel absolutely real, something Slater never manages to pull off. And I should mention that James Gandolfini has a really, really brilliant supporting role. He’s terrifying as a brutal mob enforcer and the lengthy hotel room sequence with him and Arquette is one of the most harrowing and brilliant scenes in the whole movie, a real knock out scene in every way. Arquette’s performance there is full on and Gandolfini matches her perfectly.
If the film could use a bit of a trim and if that final standoff becomes so cartoonish as to lose all impact, well, the film remains entertaining, if not as brilliant as it could be. The great parts of this movie are so great that they get you to, more or less, forgive the less than stellar parts. It’s inconsistent and sloppy. Tarantino direction and a better lead performance could have crafted this into a genuine masterpiece, but as off-balance and confused as it is, it’s a real live wire. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – Slater is a weak lead & Scott’s direction distracts, but True Romance is a film filled with brilliant scenes and performances; less than the sum of its parts, but its parts are pretty great. 3 ½ stars.