As has been widely reported, the beloved action director Tony Scott committed suicide last week by jumping off of a bridge in Los Angeles. We here at Critic Speak thought that we would take a moment to share our favorite Scott films…
Danny Baldwin – “Domino” (2005)
It would be difficult to argue that Tony Scott’s “Domino” is his best work by any objective measure–it’s the kind of filmmaking that values messy passion over technical precision–but it’s my personal favorite because of the way that Scott swings for the fences. He swings so hard, in fact, that it’s amazing he didn’t dislocate a rotator cuff during production.
“Domino” immediately confronts the viewer with a hyperkinetic style that deliberately acts to thrash their senses. To bring Richard Kelly’s extremely dramatized version of real-life female bounty-hunter Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley) to life, most filmmakers would have divorced their storytelling from the protagonist, treating her as a subject whose story they were portraying from an external vantage point. This is the way that most biopics are told. But the notoriously boundary-pushing Scott does the opposite, bringing the viewer right into Domino’s manic, impulsive world with every audio-visual effect under the sun: quick cuts, fast and slow motion, saturated and desaturated filters, echoing dialogue — the list goes on. Typically, such excessive ornamentation would seem indulgent and reflect the clear presence of an auteur, but Scott uses these tricks so that the movie feels more like Domino’s, not his (no small accomplishment given that he made several similarly ultra-stylized works.) >> Click here to read the rest of Danny’s write-up >>
Guillaume Delloue – “Spy Game” (2001)
Watching a Tony Scott film, viewers can be sure of a few things. Explosions will be frequent and unusually large. The government is everywhere and sees everything. Heroism and self-sacrifice are the manliest virtues of all. Yet despite these somewhat formulaic elements, Scott could actually handle knotty scripts without boring his audience. A fine example of this rare ability is “Spy Game.”
Released in November 2001, the film was remarkably prescient in foreshadowing an entire genre of millennial spy movies (“The Bourne Identity” came out the year after), as well as resurrecting a ‘70s-era distrust, if not paranoia, in big government. In the years following 9/11, this feeling became commonplace, but back then, “Spy Game” was one of the first pop art reactions to the optimism that followed the end of the Cold War.
Very little in the movie’s story about a C.I.A. agent scheduled to be executed for espionage is even remotely possible–has a spy blockbuster ever been realistic?–but it’s a clever and well-told thriller with a surprisingly complex plot full of twists and turns that any fan of the genre will appreciate. Scott deftly switches from flashbacks to the present, across three decades and multiple war-torn nations. Many directors could have made “Spy Game,” but only Tony Scott could have made it this fun.
James Frazier – “True Romance” (1993)
“True Romance” occupies a rare space in film history: a movie written by one auteur (Quentin Tarantino) and directed by another (Tony Scott). As a case study in the synthesis of two distinct cinematic voices, it’s invaluable, as it proudly exhibits Tarantino’s dialogue-rich, pop culture obsessive sensibilities and Scott’s extreme-close-up-laden, slow-motion-heavy love of violence. The result is a bloody, profane, hilarious, and even shocking crime-thriller that ends on a note of giddy optimism.
And it’s only appropriate that a script by Tarantino, a filmmaker famous for his facility with actors, was directed by one who, despite his frequently high-octane material, seemed incapable of getting a bad performance out of his stars. The movie’s failure at the box office has since been belied by the celebrity of the names attached, a collaboration that turned out to be one of the best films of all involved.
Timothy Semenza – “Unstoppable” (2010)
Tony Scott’s final film, “Unstoppable,” is my favorite of the director’s because it is a prime showcase of his signature elements: men at work who are confronted with an extraordinary situation, hyperkinetic cinematography, and Scott’s leading man of choice, Denzel Washington. Additionally, Scott masters a no-frills style of storytelling that allows him to devote the maximum amount of time to the frenetic action rather than empty plotting, enhancing the visceral nature of the material. As such, the film ranks as one of the purest action experiences of the new millennium.
Scott takes advantage of every opportunity allowed by the premise–Washington and fellow lead Chris Pine desperately try to stop an out-of-control train–to ride the viewer’s nerves. Everything that can go wrong does, culminating in several massive explosions, which are punctuated by the screams of the train, as if to give a voice to this inanimate villain.
Although a rampaging locomotive is plenty exciting, the dynamic between the leads enhances the action by giving the impending disaster a tangible human cost. Washington can do this kind of role in his sleep, yet he brings out the character’s essential humanity when he talks about his daughters, who, much to his chagrin, work at a Hooters in the town where the train is sure to derail. Pine has much more to prove, both as a conductor and as a husband, and his regret is palpable when telling the story of how his marriage began to fall apart — hardly the emotionless stuff you’d find in a routine action movie.
And most of all: who doesn’t just love runaway trains? Scott is simply scratching the time-honored itch that Buster Keaton did over 80 years prior in “The General.”