In 1993, Quentin Tarantino was cinema’s boy wonder. ‘Reservoir Dogs’ had smashed indie box-office records, ‘Pulp Fiction’ was in production and his early scripts were being snapped up by the studios – including a matching pair of ‘Badlands’-inspired lovers-on-the-run thrillers. Oliver Stone’s ‘Natural Born Killers’ was a sure thing: an Oscar-winning director, an ultra-hip cast, a script that smartly satirised reality TV and media madness. ‘True Romance’, on the other hand, looked like a dog: director Tony Scott had barely recovered from the debacle of ‘Days of Thunder’, Christian Slater was on the slide after a string of flops and leading lady Patricia Arquette was far less famous than her big sister Rosanna.
But hindsight is a beautiful thing. ‘Natural Born Killers’ is unwatchable now, a garish, tasteless, brick-in-the-face satire. Whereas ‘True Romance’ is nothing less than a modern classic: a rocket-fuel romance that rattles from Detroit to Hollywood as Slater’s comic-book geek and Arquette’s hooker with a heart steal a case of cocaine and hit the road. The script is close to flawless: from the big speeches (‘Hundreds of years ago, the Moors conquered Sicily…’) to a string of genius one-liners (‘You… you want me to suck his dick?’). It’s so funny you can forgive Tarantino’s sleazy strain of nerd-boy wish-fulfilment.
But it’s Scott’s direction that sets the whole thing on fire, lunging from heart-meltingly sweet to unbearably violent without breaking stride. And ‘True Romance’ contains more crunchy punch-ups, genius casting choices (let’s not forget stoner Brad Pitt) and moments of real, honest emotion than Tarantino’s entire post-‘Pulp’ output put together. Giddy and glorious.