Tony Scott Needs A Change Of Style

A commentary by JoBlo asked critics to lighten up on Tony Scott and his recent trend of over-editing and over-stylizing his films. The editorial suggests the only problem critics can find with DOMINO is that it’s too visual and moves too fast.

“The last time I checked...weren't movies a VISUAL medium?!? Aren't we supposed to want certain directors to test the limits, try new things, have fun with the camera? [Critics] ONLY appreciate movies if they are moving at the same pace as REMAINS OF THE DAY or AMERICAN BEAUTY.”

In the end, the article asks for critics to give Scott credit for trying something different. I normally agree with JoBlo's Strong Opinions, but this time he’s generalizing all Tony Scott bashers as stuffy art critics, and he is wrong. I grew up on Tony Scott. I am a huge fan. And I seriously wish someone would take away his editing machine, and get him back to making movies instead of ruining them.
Tony Scott made his debut with the THE HUNGER which I saw a few years after it was made. I loved the beginning with Bauhaus performing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, and the cool bit with David Bowie getting old very quickly. But I hated the movie because of the curtains. If you have any recollection of the movie, you’ll remember that curtains blew in front of the lens about every 5 seconds. It remains one of the most distracting motifs in cinematic history.
I first discovered Tony Scott the same way everyone else did, with TOP GUN. This was simply the right director with the right project at the right time. Now, TOP GUN is not classic cinema in a historical sense, but it’s still one of the quintessential summertime entertainments, and I will always love this movie no matter how jaded a critic I become.

From there, Scott made BEVERLY HILLS COP II, REVENGE and DAYS OF THUNDER. The middle film was a first attempt at human emotions and drama. Unfortunately the script was so bad, nobody could have survived it. (I’m not saying Scott did a good job, I’m just saying he wasn’t the only problem.) The other two films were straight ahead pieces of obvious entertainment. Nothing artistic, but not bad for what they were.

Then came THE LAST BOY SCOUT, which I believe was the start of Scott’s creative upswing. Working with producer Joel Silver and a rich script by the great Shane Black, Scott was handed an action movie with real characters. Within the explosions there where some decent emotional scenes including Damon Wayans finest moment when he talks about the death of his newborn son. The action is mostly relegated to the final act, but Scott keeps a tight grip on all the elements (although some of the buddy-banter has dated badly), and shows he’s ready to handle more.
Scott’s next two films are his masterpieces. TRUE ROMANCE and CRIMSON TIDE are both character-heavy dramas with small doses of action. TIDE is smartly cast and features career high performances from Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. ROMANCE contains two of the greatest scenes of the 90’s. First we get Gary Oldman in the career-defining role of the white pimp who acts black. (Oh, the things he does with a ceiling lamp.) That’s just the warm up for the heavyweight match between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper. In both cases, the Tony Scott style perfectly balances character and story, creating terrifically paced artistic entertainment.
THE FAN was Scott’s next film, and a gigantic misstep. Scott had Robert DeNiro, Wesley Snipes (back when he was an actor), and a nice idea for a psycho-thriller. But the film fails on every level, and I wonder if Scott was determined to be different next time, and do whatever to keep things lively.
ENEMY OF THE STATE and SPY GAME were a cautious toe in the new stylistic waters. I like the films quite a bit, but you notice that Scott’s edits get increasingly jumpier. His camera moves are more pointlessly dynamic. An ominous sign of things to come.
The new style of Tony Scott first appeared on the internet. BMW was making short films with A-list talent and expensive production values. Tony Scott directed BEAT THE DEVIL, starring Clive Owen, Gary Oldman and James Brown. The plot involves a race to win back Brown’s soul from Oldman (who plays Satan).
I think BEAT THE DEVIL is supposed to be a comedy. It’s an incoherent mess. All the new Scott trademarks are here: cutting to internal thoughts, bizarre subtitling, and my least favorite…inserting a “THUD” into the soundtrack after every plot point (making sure you can still follow things.) Scott hammers every beat like a stand up comedian who relies on the drummers rim shot. BEAT THE DEVIL is a 10-minute headache.
Unfortunately, MAN ON FIRE uses the same style and runs nearly 2 1/2 hours. The first half of the film is actually pretty good, but that’s not because of Scott. He does everything he can to bury Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning, who manage to form an emotional bond anyway. This is where I first felt that Fanning was a freakishly good actress because most actors would not have survived Scott’s camera techniques. For the revenge section of the movie, Denzel has nobody to act off of and he’s drowns in Scott’s visual stew.

What makes DOMINO so troublesome is now, you have to wonder if this new style is just a phase, or if “NATURAL BORN KILLERS times five” is how he plans to make movies from now on. The story sounds like something that might have worked if Scott went back to his TRUE ROMANCE roots. But after seeing both trailers, I just don’t want to put up with the assault on my eyes and ears.
DOMINO tanked at the box office last week, which is a really good sign. Hopefully, like with THE FAN, a financial and creative failure will lead to an artistic rebirth. If Tony Scott wants to challenge himself, he should throw out his shiny new editing toys and concentrate on interesting camera moves that last for a few seconds. He’s not dead to me, but he is on life support.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disagree with every conclusion here. Let Tony Scott be a Tony Scott. Nothing else to add.

8:53 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home