A TONY SCOTT RETROSPECTIVE


Last Sunday, 19th August 2012, Director/Producer Tony Scott, younger brother to Sir Ridley Scott and the director of such classics as Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Beverly Hills Cop II, passed away after taking his own life. I’ve always liked his work, finding that even though his older brother has gained so much notoriety, and certainly not without good reason, that Tony, who many will be surprised to hear that he was even related to the knight of the realm, has been overlooked.

Ridley has made his name with hits such as Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator but he has made more than a few howlers too; and personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Alien or Blade Runner anyway.  But I do like Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Man On Fire, True Romance and even Days Of Thunder! I find that even though Ridley has produced so many grand works, that it can be presumed that slow-paced epics carry more weight than the summer blockbusters.

Well, I would like to point out that Ben~Hur and Quo Vadis were more blockbuster than art house in their day. One is the yin to the others yan. I feel that last Sunday was a very sad day for the film industry as a whole, who has lost a creative visionary within an industry where creativity is not always encouraged.

His visual style was always key, from the areal photography in Top Gun, to more complex visual stylisation of his later films such as Spy Game and Man On Fire. His work with Denzel Washington became a staple, though towards the end, it did become a little samey, feeling as if Washington was cast a safe pair of hands to hold his films together.

But when all’s said and done, in tribute, I have listed the Tony Scott films which I have seen, which is most of the main ones and my views on them. Many have been reviewed in full and links are included.

  • TOP GUN 1986 9/10 Scott’s first and most notable hit. Given the gig off the back of a Saab advert in which he had a car racing a jet plane, he created one of the most iconic and actually decent movies of the decade. It looks good but it also delivers heart and soul, though only to an extent. It’s cool none the less and makes for a great 80’s music video!

  • REVENGE 1990 7/10 I must admit that I haven’t seen this film since the early 90’s and I remember that Kevin Costner, the star, was a big name at the time, following a string of successes, from Dances With Wolves to The Bodyguard. The film was good enough and more in keeping, if I remember correctly, with his later film, Man On Fire in tone; dark, gritty and violent.

  • DAYS OF THUNDER 1990 6/10 Tom Cruise was brought back, this time cast with his future wife, Nicole Kidman to do Top Gun with Nascar. It wasn’t a patch on Top Gun but it was a laugh, though not always intellectually so. It’s fun to watch and influential in the overall style of the genre, but it takes style over substance to extremes.

  • TRUE ROMANCE 1993 8/10 One of the best examples of a film with EVERYBODY in it, both in front and behind the camera, True Romance is one of his best films, managing to take and temper one of Quentin Tarantino’s early screenplays and making it palatable, softening the edges without compromising the artistic vision of the man who was about to direct Pulp Fiction.

  • CRIMSON TIDE 1995 8/10 10/10 (*) Enter Denzel Washington. He would go on to work with him a further five times, but this was interesting and I feel, an underrated film. This is the begining of Scott’s trend toward adding more of an intellectual element to his films. We follow the fate of a nuclear sub as its old school Captain, Gene Hackman and it’s more academic first officer, Washington, argue over conflicting launch orders. The fate of the world rest with who’s right and who’s wrong and the sub is cut off from the outside world. The problem is, that they are both right. But this is still a Tony Scott movie and his style looms large as does the iconic soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, who was about to hit the big time himself.
  • ENEMY OF THE STATE 1998 5/10 Some people think more of this than I do. Maintaining his trend towards dealing with big issues in his films, this looks at the intelligence agencies use and ability to spy upon normal people. It’s action packed but just doesn’t do it for me. And I feel that it offers little more in this area than John Badham did in 1984’s Blue Thunder.

  • SPY GAME 2001 7/10 A strange film in many respects. The labyrinthine plot of spy-master Robert Redford, explaining his actions and his dealing with one of his agents, Brad Pitt, takes us through the events in the Middle East during the 1980’s and 90’s.

  • MAN ON FIRE 2004 10/10 His best film and Denzel is back, this time as an emotionally wrecked bodyguard put in charge of a young girl, Dakota Fanning, in kidnap capital, Mexico City. After forging a meaningful relationship with the girl and pinning his metal recovery on this, he is gunned down and she is kidnapped. He then watches as the ransom drop in bungled and the girl is murdered as a result. He is then out for revenge in brutal but satisfying fashion. Scott has really managed to evoke feeling here. We have bought into their relationship and, backed by first-rate performances, we are right there with him as he takes out the kidnappers one by one…
  • DEJA VU 2006 8/10 I kept myself in the dark about this plot before I saw the film and I’m glad that I did. This is the point where Scott’s issue filmmaking became a little tedious. This is Scott on Terrorism and though that plotline is interesting, it is not as enthralling or as intriguing as the Sci Fi elements. A good film though.

  • THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 2008 6/10 Pretty much a straight forward remake of the classic 1970’s version. Jazzed up, modernised and pinned onto the “supposed everyman” that is Denzel Washington, but the plot plays out in a very similar way and this isn’t a bad thing but the story just moves too slowly, a problem which seemed to be an issue in the later Scott films.

  • UNSTOPPABLE 2010 6/10 This was always going to a tricky one. It’s simply story about a runaway train. No villains, just a juggernaut with no-one at the controls. Unfortunately, I found that there was just to little to grab hold of or to get behind here and this, the last Tony Scott directed film. It’s not the blaze of glory which we would all hope for.

In conclusion, if I was to even attempt to sum up the career of a man such as Tony Scott, would have to rate him as being one of the best in his class. He became the staple of the Bruckheimer stable, prolific and trend setting. Following Top Gun, Scott set the bar and tone for such movies, the summer action blockbuster has never been the same since. But that’s not always a good thing and going by my tastes above, I feel that even though Top Gun may be the film that he is remembered for the most, it’s Man On Fire which I will always hold him in such high esteem. Proof that the mainstream filmmaker can make Tom Cruise a household name can go on make a film which never really made a dent in Hollywood that year, but is a real artistic and intellectual gem.

Rest in peace Tony, and rest assured that your work will be sorely missed.

N.B. (*) Crimson Tide has been re-rated to reflect the review which was written and posted on 24th April 2013. We all make mistakes!

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