Monday, August 20, 2012

My Favorite Scene: the Films of Tony Scott

Since news of director Tony Scott’s passing yesterday, I’ve found myself stuck in this bummed out funk. When a celebrity death occurs, I always find it interesting that it can have such an affect on us “normal” people. We’re nothing more than viewers of the art, yet we found ourselves mourning the loss all the same.

The impact of Tony Scott’s death, however, is slightly more puzzling to me, personally. Frankly, I’m not the biggest admirer of his entire body of work. He made some excellent films, and he made some that didn’t quite do it for me. Regardless, I’ve always liked him. I appreciated his candor, his wit and his evident intelligence (listen to any of the director’s commentaries he recorded for proof).

And then there’s the way in which he died. The fact that he walked onto the Vincent Thomas Bridge in LA in broad daylight and made the decision to jump off it is just… extremely disheartening. As ABC News reports, Scott committed suicide shortly after learning he had inoperable brain cancer. Whatever the case may be, this is one dark day for movie fans.

At their best, his films thrilled and entertained as well as any offered from contemporary cinema. Here are the scenes from Tony Scott’s career that I will forever enjoy.

Note: Every embedded video contains spoilers.

True Romance (1993)
The Sicilians and the Moors
True Romance is a perfect film. One of Quentin Tarantino’s best scripts, coupled with refined, precise direction and flawless acting, makes for a movie I can watch repeatedly without bore.

I recently wrote about how taken I am with Brad Pitt’s brief work in the film, and, a few months ago, said how Gary Oldman’s one scene as an unrecognizable, dreadlocked thug, marked one of the best moments of his career. Two brilliant cameos that never fail to amuse.

And how about The Scene? The extended give-and-take between a never creepier Christopher Walken and a scared shitless Dennis Hopper. There’s nothing about that sequence that doesn’t work. It’s as amusing as it is terrifying. It is, in short, the best scene of Tony Scott’s career.

Crimson Tide (1995)
The Relieving of Command
I like to think the pitch meeting for Crimson Tide went something like this: “The movie is about… uh, we’ll fill in the beginning later. But it culminates with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman getting into a heated, well-articulated argument concerning the implementation of nuclear war, while aboard a submarine.”

Studio exec thinks.


The Fan (1996)
The Little League Downfall
The Fan joins the ranks of many of Scott’s films that aren’t good by “classical” definitions of cinema, but that I love wholeheartedly. The movie is about Gil, a muddling knife salesman (Robert De Niro), who is obsessed with a professional baseball player (Wesley Snipes).

As the film progresses, Gil becomes more and more batshit insane, including causing a ruckus at his son’s little league baseball game. Gil thinks the coach throwing the pitches is throwing them too hard and too high, so, naturally, Gil takes to the field to lecture the coach and correct his son’s poor batting stance. The poor boy’s mother storms down, as does her new husband, Tim. And right around the time Tim reaches for the bat Gil is holding, Gil flares up and threatens to knock Tim out.

Nine Inch Nails’ “Art of Self Destruction, Part One” creeps in, and, for the briefest of moments, I see Travis Bickle as an old man. Heaven.

Enemy of the State (1998)
The Art of Being Incredibly Smart or Incredibly Stupid
Tony Scott knew how to film a shootout. It’s hard to top the Mexican standoff that ends True Romance, but damn if this Enemy of the State climax doesn’t wow bang boom.

Having been chased by American government goons for possessing a videotape he actually doesn’t own, Will Smith decides to shiftily pit the feds against the mob in a wonderful game of Who’s Who. Smith has a video of mob boss Joey Pintero (Tom Sizemore, at the top of his game) doing bad things, the government thinks Smith has a video of the government doing bad things. For roughly four minutes, Smith manages to convince both parties that they both have each other’s tape. Is it plausible? Nah. Do I care? Of course not.

Man on Fire (2004)
The Wishing of More Time
I love everything about Man on Fire. It perfectly encapsulates the new, frenzied vision Scott had tapped into (which his later movies would overindulge themselves with), not too mention a genuinely terrific Denzel Washington performance.

At its very best, Man on Fire contains an ingenious five minute sequence in which a thug begs for the bomb up his ass to not blow up. Denzel, having a thrill as the in-control bully, stands over a half naked, shackled Mexican crime lord as the criminal attempts to satisfy Denzel with information. The kicker is, no matter what the criminal says, Denzel has every intention of blowing his ass halfway to hell. Which he does.

The Hire: Beat the Devil (2002)
Here’s one for fun. As part of BMW’s The Hire anthology, Tony Scott directed this short in which James Brown (playing himself) is forced to atone for selling his soul to the devil (played deliciously by Gary Oldman) years ago.

It’s by far the most fun of The Hire series and, at nine minutes and 45 seconds, makes me long for more of the same.


  1. Great post. It's such a shame how he went. I've enjoyed what I've seen of his work, even Domino. Of these, I've only seen True Romance, which is, indeed, perfect. That scene is definitely one's of the film's most memorable. I also just picked up a copy of Man on Fire, so I might get to that and Deja Vu tonight. And I need to see the rest of these, obviously.

    1. Thanks man. Man on Fire and Deja Vu would make for a great double feature.

      I really do recommend all the flicks I listed here very highly. Pulp action at its finest.

  2. My top 5 favorite Tony Scott scenes.

    1. The Walker-Hopper scene in True Romance
    2. The final dogfight in Top Gun
    3. The opening sequence w/ Bauhaus in The Hunger
    4. Bruce Willis dancing in The Last Boy Scout
    5. Tom Cruise & Michael Rooker trying to race each other in rental cars in Days of Thunder.

    I wish this was a hoax. I didn't want to believe it last night. The brain cancer thing. Damn... MOTHERFUCK YOU CANCER!

    I'll admit that I wasn't a fan of some of Tony's recent films like Deja Vu and The Taking of Pelham 123 but I've always respected him. Even in the works of lesser films like Domino and The Fan where I loved the way he used the music of NIN.

    R.I.P. Tony

    1. Excellent scenes there, all top notch. Forgot about Willis' dance in The Last Boy Scout. I need to watch that again ASAP.

      Yep, he may not have made films I always loved, but I constantly respected that he went for something different. Motherfuck cancer indeed.

  3. Lovely post and a great way to remember Tony Scott. I haven't seen many of his films, but now that you mention, his BMW short was brilliant, I remember seeing it. As for the cause of his death, well, you never really know what goes on in a person's mind and how it works- maybe he was shocked and scared of the news of cancer, maybe he was dealing with depression for a long never know! Anyway, rest in peace, I'm sure he will always be remembered!

    1. His BMW short is just manic bliss, isn't it? Glad you dig it.

      No, to the full extent, we'll never know. Just a shame all around. I'm sure he will be remember, too.

  4. So sad. And I never even realized he was Ridley Scott's brother! Terrible.

    I loved so many of his movies. I was determined to dislike Enemy of the State (for some reason I wasn't on board with Will Smith yet) and I was just blown away.

    Very nice post.

    1. Thanks. Enemy of the State is a pretty perfect action thriller, I think. A lot of the films Tony Scott did were perfect encapsulations of the genre he made them in.

      I hope Ridley is holding up well.

  5. Can't tell you how many times I have watched Man on Fire for all the nuances. It was a growing love story between a despondent man, Denzel, and the lovely little girl, Dakota, who gave his life meaning. Scott was a
    great story teller. Will miss him.

    1. Oh I'll miss him too. Man on Fire is my second favorite Scott film (right behind True Romance). Love everything about that one.

  6. It is sad and tragic when a person such as Scott with a distinctly unique vision dies unexpectedly in this manner. His 'Music Video' cutting style, Migraine inducing as it may be, kept his fast-pace action moving along. However, my favorite of his has to be 'Spy Game', the last great Robert Redford effort. Every scene that Muir talks, deals and outplays the entire CIA review board is just seasoned actor gold. By the end I was surprised that it was in fact Mr. Scott that made it, as it was much more dialogue and character oriented than his usual stuff, 'Crimson Tide' not withstanding. 'Spy Game' also changed my opinion of Brad Pitt completely. 'Enemy of the State' also should get recognition for one of the two best Will Smith Movies. A sad day for action enthusiasts everywhere.

    1. Hey Jeff, thanks so much for such a thoughtful comment. Your heartfelt words here really make me want to revisit Spy Game. I haven't seen that one in many many years.

      A very sad day for action enthusiasts indeed.

  7. I wrote about the Sicilian scene immediately after I had watched the movie last year. It is just that amazing. I haven't watched any other of Scott's films completely, but I'm definitely a massive True Romance fan. I also love it when James Gandolfini and Patricia Arquette fight. Woah that is awesome!

    1. That fight scene is just bloody goddamn tragic. Gritty, real and raw. Love True Romance. After that, I'd recommend Man on Fire as Scott's best film. Although, most would probably pick Top Gun, which has never really been my thing haha.

  8. Great tribute, Alex. Yeah Tony Scott certainly knew how to film a shootout, how true! I do like his quieter film Spy Game the most though, it still has a lot of suspense without overblown action sequences.

    1. Thanks Ruth! I just started rewatching Spy Game last night. Haven't seen that one since it was first released. Really digging it all over again.

  9. Hey Alex! Catching up with all your recent posts in the past month. I've read 'em all, and you're on fire! Had to chime in on this one, though. These are great choices, a really nice way to pay tribute a terrific director. I didn't realize that Man of Fire is your second fave Scott film -- nice choice! I watched it for the first time over the weekend and just posted about it. I dug it, man.

    1. Nice man, good to see you back around!

      Dude, I love Man on Fire. I think it is ball nuts, but appropriately balls nuts, unlike a few of his later films, which were just too out there.

      But anyway you look at it, it's just sad to see him go.