The Tony Scott Retrospective

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It always hurts to see someone die. It hurts twice as much when said person has directly impacted your view on art, and it hurts even more to know that they passed on due to terrible circumstances. Such is the case for Tony Scott, one of the greatest, most stylistic and unique mainstream Hollywood directors ever to grace the screen with his inimitable presence, who sadly passed away on the 19th of August 2012 after jumping off of the Vincent Thomas Bridge in the midst of “fighting a lengthy battle with cancer.” (As said by his brother, Ridley Scott). Despite this, Tony Scott left behind a legacy that is still unmatched as one of the best, most visually ambitious of all Hollywood directors who has without a doubt had a huge impact on many of the mainstream directors working today (most evidently, Michael Bay), and a man who consistently entertained millions, to the point that film will never forget his work… even if their prioritising Top Gun above all else seems like a mistake to me…

Anyway, without too much more of an introduction, we’re going to look into the work of Tony Scott here, excluding short films and running in chronological order just for ease. 

The Hunger (1983)

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Somehow (likely due to his connection to his brother, Ridley Scott, who was already well entrenched in the film scene due to a little film called Alien releasing a few years before…), Tony Scott managed to start his feature film career with a film starring no other than the Starman, David Bowie, alongside Catherine Deneuve (who needs no introduction) and Susan Sarandon, in this extremely stylistic vampire drama about John, the vampire who suddenly finds himself ageing at a rapid rate. Scott’s beautiful style is surprisingly well suited to the darker and more dingy gothic textures that cover this, and even though his visuals feel quite influenced by Nic Roeg (especially The Man Who Fell To Earth, which is striking as both star Bowie as something not quite human), the film clearly shows Scott’s visual potential and, for a debut feature, it is just astounding. The direction is so self-assured and confident whilst never striking as obnoxious or pretentious, managing to toe the line and glide along that oh-so wonderful sweet spot that is impossible to take your eyes off of. It’s a beautiful meeting point between deep melancholy and impossible, freeing ecstasy, and one hell of a first film for any director.

Top Gun (1986)

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As if The Hunger wasn’t impressive as a debut, three years later Tony Scott somehow made his second feature film outing one of the most iconic and well known films of all time, with the beautiful Top Gun. Of course, the film isn’t perfect – it’s often really quite silly, but Scott has never been tempted by focusing on reality, it seems he is a director drawn to making films due to the opposite – he chases the kind of fantasy that is achievable through film, and so Top Gun just becomes a beautiful celebration of technology and of cinema. It’s a film that simply feels triumphant throughout, as you can feel Scott’s wandering eye has latched onto his subject and the sheer joy of everybody there. It has that tangible feeling of a group of people so proud to be working on something, with the notable hunger of being new to the game – this feeling is smothered over Top Gun so much that you could probably scrape it off of your screen and bottle it at any given point. With its deep oranges and distinct military greens, it just looks beautiful, and in a way the cheesiness of the plot also adds to this inimitable charm and makes Top Gun one of those films that, in an ironic way, deserves its reputation among casual filmgoers as one of the go-to all time classics. 

And in all honesty, even the remake feels right, with new cameras being built specifically for the film. From the trailers, it looks like the producers understand the charm that came with the over-the-top insanity of the first, with it stating just grounded enough to function as a kind of entrancing hyper-reality… I, for one, am really quite excited to see how it turns out. If it can manage to even hold a candle to the original’s beautiful visuals, we’re in for a treat. With such a focus on technological developments since the last one, I think it’s bound to at least look fantastic… but only time will tell!

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

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Taking a slight detour here to look at a film that I’m still often surprised to see Scott’s name attached to (until I remind myself of how the film looks and then it becomes transparently clear), let’s look at the second Beverly Hills Cop film. Of course, the first is as much of a classic as Top Gun is, and even if I personally don’t think all too much of the first it’s really not difficult to look at what it does and see why it is so enjoyable to so many. It does an excellent job of riding the line between action, thriller and comedy, managing to actually mix all three to the point that the audience is constantly expecting something new to happen and still is consistently surprised, and what I said earlier about Scott’s ability to toe cinematic genre lines when talking about The Hunger most definitely also applies to his work on Beverly Hills Cop II. Infusing his one of a kind visual style into what is otherwise just a really, really fun and off the wall blockbuster of pretty epic proportions that definitely has the unique feeling that comes with the cop action/comedy hybrids of the time (see also Lethal Weapon 1-4 and the Dirty Harry sequels – the first is quite serious but after that they become more self aware and let loose for the most part, aside from the fourth film, Sudden Impact). 

It seems that Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley and Scott were just a matching too good to be true, as both seem to bounce off of each other seamlessly despite the fact that Scott doesn’t appear once in front of the camera. He is all over the film, in its slick lighting, the quick editing and the pacing that seems to only have time for chaos and laughter. It’s like a blueprint to a Michael Bay film if it were picked up by someone else… and it’s beautiful…

And this film concludes Scott’s work from the 1980s! Certainly making his presence known in the first four years of his career, Scott would only go on to greater things, too…

Revenge (1990)

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Tony Scott burst into the 1990s by making two of his better films within months of each other. Revenge was the first of the two, (unsurprisingly) a revenge action thriller starring the great Kevin Costner (the more I see, the more of a fan I am of his 90s work!). This seems to be one of the least popular of all of Scott’s films, despite the fact that it has been released twice (once in the cut of producer Ray Stark, which was critically maligned to what feels like a genuinely unfair degree, and later as Tony Scott’s leaner cut… we’ll be discussing the former here!), and yet I think it is one of his best. Surprisingly finely tuned, and loosening up on his usually very held together visual style to make way for pure narrative momentum, Scott changes lanes here for a moment and seems to almost accidentally make one of his finest films in doing so. This isn’t to say that his normal style is bad, of course, but the way that he adapts to this change and follows through with it is not only endlessly fascinating but serves this specific film beautifully. 

It feels quite abrupt and stilted, but for good reason, with the performances seeming to stick to each other rather than suavely slide around and bounce off of each other, and it all creates this quite uncomfortable tension from the very start of the film. Of course, the editing supports this, as does the grim nature of the characters as none of them is really innocent in the grand scheme of things. The form seems to almost be screaming at the audience to be noticed, with these glistening oranges and yellows almost always followed by deep blues and reds in contrast, with sharp editing, almost gratuitous gore during the action scenes and such a fierce visually attacking style, and of course when matched with the rather grizzly themes of indifference and patriarchal oppression in the modern world, it all becomes quite condemning. It’s the first Scott film where there is an anger bubbling away under the surface, or maybe more of just a burning passion as opposed to an outright anger, and maybe this comes through due to it not being his cut of the film, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make for one of the leanest and meanest thrillers of recent memory. 

Costner and Madeleine Stowe (also great in Unlawful Entry!) are both excellent in their own way, managing to make their stilted chemistry work somehow. Scott apparently set up three cameras and simply told them to improvise their sex scenes, so it’s not difficult to imagine how awkward the set would have been, and yet they make it work in spite of their lacking chemistry as it is this chemistry that makes that uncomfortable feeling so hard to ignore. And that uncomfortable feeling at the core of the film is exactly what informs the rest of it, the film seems to be fuelled by its own intense discomfort and makes phenomenal use of it, too. It’s a film that seems to rot the brain somewhat, but leave you feeling all the better for it. It’s brutally violent, really quite harsh, and paints the world in a grim, despicable light that most mainstream films seem quite afraid of… maybe this explains why many critics tossed it to one side without giving it too much thought…

Days of Thunder (1990)

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Letting the shackles off for his next film, Scott returns to his usually quite jolly self with Days of Thunder, definitely the only film I’ve ever laid eyes on to feature a scene with a race between two people in wheelchairs. For the most part, Days of Thunder is a surface level re-telling of the story that seems to corrupt just about every sports related film that exists, that of some seemingly insurmountable hurdle getting in the way and subsequently being torn down before a great victory… you’ve heard and seen it all before, without a doubt, but thankfully between Scott’s electrifying direction, his visual panache and Tom Cruise’s damn good performance, this one is far from a chore to sit through even if you can’t quite shake the idea that you’ve seen the film before. I can’t help but wish that Scott did break the mould a little more here and dared to step outside of the zone of sports films a little more, however, as soon as those driving sequences start, it’s difficult not to be completely overwhelmed by the sheer kinetic power of it all… and the romantic melodrama (as well as the psychological one) at the centre of the film also works quite well. It’s a film that is incredibly light on its feet, and one that is as slick as blockbusters can get.

The Last Boy Scout (1991)

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Scott’s only stand-out comedy film (as in, a film that stands out as a comedy above any other genre, not his best comic work) is 1991’s The Last Boy Scout, starring Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans… however, to dismiss this as a simple action comedy would be really quite ignorant. This is the one of Scott’s most clearly anti-establishment films (he would go on to make a successive string of these through the 90s, most of his films from The Last Boy Scout and onwards focus on this same theme to differing extents.), and it really lays out the blueprint for a lot of what his later work would be focused on. Maintaining its light tone in spite of the politically vile ideas focused on throughout, The Last Boy Scout is a flawed but still quite enjoyable film focused on corruption and the fight against corruption in the hope of living in a better world… and it’s also really funny.

True Romance (1993)

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As someone who was once a big Tarantino fan but has since found progressively less to like in his work, I have to admit I was quite hesitant to look back at True Romance when I focused in on Scott’s work. There’s a reason that so many people remain certain that Tarantino directed this, his directorial fingerprint lays all over it as if he ghost directed the project, but this only goes to prove the stylistic power of his scripts, I suppose… Anyway, the point is is that I was trepidatious about coming back to see what this has in store for me, but was pleased to find that for the most part, some grating scenes aside, it’s a good story and one that is generally quite well handled.

To me, the star of this film has been and probably always will be Hans Zimmer’s beautifully bouncy score, the familiar jingle of which I often find stuck in my head… Second to the score is of course the wonderfully dynamic duo of Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, who not only have great chemistry (Scott must have learned from his handling of Revenge, or he just got more lucky with the casting this time) but also individually give very charismatic and entertaining performances perfectly fit to the tone of the film. Of course, the script being Tarantino’s, it features all of his usual traits with speedy dialogue and plenty of vulgarity and even the usual sprinkle of politically ambiguity, but on the whole Scott manages to direct this in such a way that the dialogue falls back somewhat and the main focus is shed on the story and characters (My God, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken kill it in this!), so it isn’t as much of a Tarantino effort as many make it out to be. I do think that this is one of Scott’s less ambitious works, and that it feels like one of his minor works despite it being his most popular and maybe his most generally acclaimed film, but it still serves as a good reminder of his ability to harness the style of a film and to make it how he sees fit. It helps that most of it is good fun, too!

Crimson Tide (1995)

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Returning to the pre-established focus on anti-establishment and corruption within organisations that we generally trust to respect safety, Crimson Tide looks at the conflict on a submarine between Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington, in one of his most energetic performances) and Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman, who plays a villain so well it’s hard to believe) of whether to attack or to try to survive without using violence where unnecessary, to hunt or leave a larger chance to be hunted. With arresting red lights that coat the metallic scenery throughout and the claustrophobic surroundings, this one starts off with the making of a terrific thriller based on its premise alone, and it pleases me to say that it absolutely delivers on that front, as well as many others. The script for this one is razor sharp, consistently impressive with the whip-smart back and forth dialogues of conflict shared between the two leading men who both tear up the screen and damn near set it alight with their energy, and the cinematography is surprisingly beautiful considering the restrictive surroundings they’re forced to work with. 

It’s a step up in severity for Scott to, as the majority of his work up to this point (with the exception of Revenge) had been quite joyful for the majority of its runtime, but this one has a surprisingly sharp and harsh bite to it should you underestimate it. This really marks a transformation from Scott from his more fun and free-wheeling films to his harsher and more adventurously serious later works.

The Fan (1996)

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The Fan is another in the string of more serious and violent Scott films in the 1990s. Whilst this one is less focused on organisations and establishments, it is focused in on sports in a similar way to The Last Boy Scout, looking at the darker side of the sports industry which of course is so pervasive in everyday American life (American especially, but the rest of the world is also effected by this of course). And, on top of that, it casts Robert De Niro alongside Wesley Snipes… how can this not be great? The simple answer is that it’s not… but the longer answer looks at the way that Scott manages to take yet another rather cliched story of an avid fan turned rabid stalker and subverts it enough to make it feel as fresh and exciting as if it were a novel concept. De Niro really gives the film his all, too, channelling the same energy into The Fan as he did on Martin Scorsese’s wonderfully bombastic Cape Fear remake in 1991, just a few years before this. I always seem to have a blast seeing De Niro let loose, and here is probably when he does just that more than any other performance in his career… it’s an absolute marvel to see him interact with Snipes and even with himself and his surroundings, his performance is just brilliant. And Snipes manages to stand up to him very well too, giving one of his more grounded and serious performances as the sports star wrapped up in De Niro’s obsession. 

Thankfully, we see the film from De Niro’s perspective, and so we don’t realise early on how his character will transform in front of us from a struggling father to a man hell bent on destruction and causing chaos for others. Scott leaves a place for sympathy for his character early on, and it is this conflict within his character that makes this film so exhilarating to watch. He gradually becomes progressively unhinged and unpredictable, until it feels like only the smallest wrongdoing would make him snap. 

Scott’s visuals also seem to take a step up here, with the finale being shot in dim rain but somehow still looking inexplicably beautiful. This is where his visuals became more over the top, more hyperrealistic (see Baudrillard’s theory of hyper-reality) and really started to almost fight against his film’s sense of reality to serve a more fantastical version of events. It’s a really beautiful film at a fair few points, and other than that, it is incredibly intense and certainly deserves to be seen for its wonderful tension alone. A personal favourite thriller of mine, and a wonderful film that anyone should see! It makes for great entertainment and truly thrilling filmmaking – the best of both worlds rolled into one!

Enemy of the State (1998)

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Enemy of the State is really the film to be talked about when it comes to Scott’s general theme of anti-establishment, corruption and modern paranoia. Running hot with the tagline that clearly states “It’s not paranoia if they’re really after you.’, and from there it only gets more afraid and more concerned about the power that the government have over the everyman. Will Smith surprisingly gives a really good performance in this, but really the most interesting thing about it is the focus on how the government can take ahold of everyday people if they want to and essentially force them into doing anything because of the power they are given. Scott questions who decides who gets this power, and what do they do to earn this trust from everybody else, and it is his asking of these questions that makes Enemy of the State so interesting from the get-go.

It’s also still not afraid to be thrilling in a fun way, which thankfully doesn’t detract anything from its generally anxious statement about the government’s power (especially as technology advances and more can be done to people directly through it – the film’s problem starts due to a digital camera, and the technological focus only increases from there. Scott’s focus on tech seems to become more fearful for a moment here, which is really interesting considering that he would be one of the pioneers of Hollywood digital filmmaking less than a decade later! But we’ll talk about his digital work next time…), but only makes this more fun to watch and admire. The choreography of these chase and fight sequences are absolutely electrifying, and the dialogue is equally thrilling, to the point that it’s really quite difficult to not be on board with this one. It’s great, it’s angry, it’s anxious, it just hits the mark so beautifully and acts as a perfect way to close Scott’s work for the 20th century.

Spy Game (2001)

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Scott opened the twenty first century with Spy Game, yet another film with a focus on the government not caring about people as much as they really should, this time from the insider perspective (in a similar way to Crimson Tide). The film focuses on Robert Redford, who is about to retire, finding himself on a mission to rescue a colleague who has been captured and arrested in China after the CIA say that they’re willing to let him die in order to avoid potentially causing an international scandal. Casting Brad Pitt alongside him, who is as charismatic as ever (Scott has some way of dragging charisma out of his actors that is always quite impressive, really), the film is a suitable close to Scott’s work with celluloid as it looks both forward and backwards, also operating as both hopeful and fearful of what the future may hold. It acts as a strange meeting point of what would be the future for his work and what we had already seen, and essentially served as a preparation for the future as well as a deserved farewell to some of his previous themes.

Man on Fire (2004)

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Now, between Spy Game and this film, Man On Fire, Tony Scott came to understand digital filmmaking… and this is where his work gets REALLY interesting. Gone are the days of simpler editing, Scott now employed an entirely new style to fit with the technological advancement that came between the two films that focused on being as hyperactively modern as humanly possible. Of course, with this comes a certain alienation to some audiences, and also runs the risk of becoming outdated *very* quickly as tech continued to advance, but somehow neither of these seem to have really affected Man on Fire at all. In fact, this is maybe Scott’s most liked film when it comes to general audiences, surprisingly. 

The film is focused on the story of John Creasy (Denzel Washington, in another one of his finest performances) who becomes a bodyguard for a little girl in Mexico City, and finds himself bonding with her to the point that, when she’s kidnapped, there isn’t anything he won’t do to find her and save her. Of course, since this film released, this plot has become rather commonplace due to films like Taken (the entire trilogy, but especially the first – it’s almost a carbon copy of the plot to this), but at the time it was somewhat new, and of course the focus is primarily on the digital stylisation of it all which is the most exciting thing about it. This isn’t to take away from the story though – I can imagine that even if this were another Scott effort shot on celluloid (as some parts of this are) it would still work wonders, but it is that refreshing digital editing and cinematography that gives this an even stronger visual style that Scott had even shown before and made it stand out even more when compared to other blockbusters at the time.

It’s easy to see why digital has become such a strong debate point considering that this was one of the films that really pioneered its use in mainstream Hollywood, along with Attack of the Clones (Lucas, 2002) and Collateral (Mann, 2004), because the styles of these directors are so bold and unafraid to really experiment in depth with what was possible due to digital’s introduction to cinema. Man on Fire is exciting enough to watch for its storyline and its brilliant performances (especially the central one from Denzel, who manages to channel just enough vulnerability in his character to earn the sympathy of the audience but also ensures never to let his guard down, which makes him so interesting as he is as conflicted within himself as he is with the kidnappers), but the digital also opens it up to a great deal of technical debate, as some of Scott’s earlier films did. 

The introduction of digital to Scott feels like some beautiful cinematic synthesis, and what would be even more exciting if the even more experimental films he would make after Man on Fire…

Domino (2005)

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Domino is perhaps Tony Scott’s most generally disliked film. It saddens me a little to say that I’ve spoken to quite a few fans of his who say that this is the only film he’s directed that they’re not especially interested in, but I can’t help but find this interesting too. To me, Scott has been about excess (in smaller, more subtle ways most of the time) since the start of his career. The Hunger doesn’t seem overly interested in it, but from Top Gun onwards there is this intrinsic focus buried deep down within many of Scott’s films on excess, primarily on cinema excess with his visual style. His camera is almost always moving, his editing is frequently very quickly paced, his action sequences always feel quite fantastical (all by design, of course)… but in Domino, thanks to his working with digital again, Scott took this focus on excess and enhanced it to the nth degree, making one of the most insane and least accessible blockbusters of recent memory, if not of all time – a film that can take a proud spot next to the likes of Bad Boys II (Bay, 2003) and Hereafter (Eastwood, 2010) as mainstream movies that seem to have gone completely off the rails in pursuit of something entirely different to general entertainment. 

I’m not sure that there is a single shot in Domino that hasn’t been visually manipulated. The film is drenched, smothered in this hazy yellow and green colour grade, the camera leers over the female characters (and the male, come to think of it), there’s a genuinely endless pit of superimposition usage, the action is sharply edited, the script is vulgar and oftentimes really quite vile, Keira Knightley gives her all and there are so many things happening at every point of the film that it seems as if an entire world is collected within the screen – a world of deafening gunshots, of sheer excess of guns, drugs and sex, of the most filthy, vile characters imaginable, etc, etc. By taking these ideas that have been in the majority of his other work in a rather realistic way (or at least, compared to this they seem realistic – I’m not sure I can say that many of Scott’s films care much to be true to life) and flipping the switch to place them in another world, using the digital camera’s new look, the modern colour grading abilities, an endless amount of different editing techniques, his huge budget, Scott made one of the most impossibly innovative and breathtaking films I have ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on. It’s just insane to watch, trying to take it all in seems like an impossible, Sisyphean task, and Scott is so clearly revelling in what he’s doing. He may have temporarily forgotten to focus on any real themes within the story, or even a plot (it’s quite difficult to keep up with what’s going on here – but at least it boils down to insane thrills, anyway), but those themes come to the forefront due to the way that this film is put together. 

I have heard many a complaint about the treatment of Keira Knightley’s character in the film, saying that the camera leers over her, which isn’t entirely wrong – but Scott’s camera in this film leers over everyone and everything. There are so many intense close-ups on guns, on money, on drugs, on men’s abs and on women until it becomes almost dizzying. Scott seems to be saying that the life lived and led by these bounty hunters is one that is almost animalistic by nature, only interested in what is instinctually attractive – power (money, guns), freedom (drugs) and sex – and it is this viewing of Scott’s usual cinematic world through an entirely new lens that this has to be my favourite film he has produced. It’s utterly insane, like seeing Stan Brakhage directing a Transformers film, and yet it works so brilliantly that it’s hard to believe. To say that Scott came into the digital age with open arms may be an understatement.

Deja Vu (2006)

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After Domino, Scott did admittedly step back a little, but the emphasis of that sentence belongs on ‘a little’, as Deja Vu certainly doesn’t shy away from innovative and progressive ideas. Hell, the film is focused on time travel. Deja Vu also features yet another brilliant Denzel Washington performance as FBI agent Doug Carlin, a man who finds himself investigating a terrorist attack using ‘new technology’ (time-travelling CCTV!) to see the events, before eventually finding a way to transfer into the events of the past himself. Now, I’m certainly no scientist and I can imagine that if you are this film probably seems really quite silly, however, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t just a phenomenal example of an action thriller. I love the way that this one focuses in on the power of digital – Scott, without a doubt, did this on his previous two films working with the format, however this time he also makes it a theme within the film, looking at the power of technical progression for humanity by literally having Denzel use different technology to save a life, and eventually a bunch of lives – and uses digital filmmaking at the same time. By this time, he had evidently adjusted to using digital and was just enjoying showboating the new technology to those who hadn’t yet seen what it could really do. 

The film is also a damn good romance. The romance is only really introduced to give the film additional stakes beyond the ides that a group of faceless people will be blown up if Denzel doesn’t succeed (Scott’s post 9/11 focus on terrorism only follows suit with a whole host of other directors who, consciously or subconsciously, saw the tragedy come through in their films after the fact, from Spielberg to Bay) by giving a face to one of these to-be victims and also adding in romantic elements to this, maybe not so explicitly but let’s just say that the implications are made clear through the script and the chemistry between the two… 

This is also the least bombastic of all of Scott’s digital films. He seems to let go of a lot of his excessive focuses throughout the majority of this film, clearly enjoying his time travel focus more than expected to the point that it is only really the scenes on time travel and the action scenes that come close to Scott’s usual visual traits (up to this point, he would actually carry many of the newer stylistic flairs he started here into his final two films!) and this makes space for a more subdued Scott, the one we saw at certain points throughout The Hunger and in moments when his thematic focuses overwhelmed his visuals. It’s a beautiful film, both visually and emotionally, and serves as a wonderful entry point for both Scott’s late work and digital cinema as a whole. There are few films like it, so hopefully focuses on a future that seems so dark. 

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

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Opening with Jay-Z’s 99 Problems as we sweep through the streets of New York City, as busy as ever, Tony Scott’s remake of the 1974 crime classic of the same name (albeit with the numbers written as words rather than as numbers…) is another one of his best achievements. I’m sure that it’ll surprise no one that this film also stars Denzel Washington in the leading role, and even less surprisingly will be that the performance is a stunner (maybe the best he gave Scott, but it is hard to really say – he’s a shockingly consistent actor), but the surprise may lay in the fact that Scott casts no other than John Travolta to oppose him as the train robber. It’ll also serve as no surprise that this is another film shot on digital, and another film focuses on how technology and people interact with one another in the twenty first century. This time, the focus is on communication, with the majority of the film being focused on the conversation held between Denzel Washington and John Travolta as Travolta keenly holds on to his train hostages and tries to negotiate his way out of his situation with Denzel, most of the time to no avail. The way that Scott goes about shooting this conversation is what is so interesting. Of course, with the technology being the transmitter of communication here, essentially blocking the two men from each other whilst also being their means of communication throughout, there is no way to really shoot an efficient, typical wide shot, close-up, reverse shot conversation here, and so Scott shoots this conversation like a phone call, with sweeping single shots that focus on the facial expressions and body language of each character so that they communicate with the audience privately without the need for exposition but also communicate with each other clearly. Scott’s formal changes are fascinating here as they clearly highlight his new approach to technology, a changed one from his early career that invites the new (not that this is a new thing, but technology has advanced so much and so quickly that there was a need for a new approach, of course). 

I think that this is one of Scott’s most exciting films, the framing is just impeccable and the fact that Scott manages to direct a film which is mostly focused on a single conversation (albeit one with high stakes) will probably never not be impressive to me. It’s a wonderfully entertaining film, one that seems to fly by as most great films tend to, and the performances are just brilliant. 

Unstoppable (2010)

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One can only try to predict where Scott would have gone after Unstoppable, his final film. It is such a shame to have lost the man at any point, but the way in which he passed on and the fact that he could have been alive so much longer if it weren’t for his misfortune is crushing, and makes it really quite hard to talk about Unstoppable without questioning what may have come after had Scott lived on and continued to follow the path that he was digging for himself (and for most digital filmmakers to follow.) Unstoppable looks at the downside of modern technology, poising the question of what can happen when technology is out of the control of mankind, using a runaway train as a microcosm to represent this idea, and it has to be said, this microcosm works wonders and creates a fascinating conflict between man, who tries his hardest and actually ends up relying on the aid from other technology, once again including the digital camera for one, and technology which is nothing more than a means to an end in this case, albeit one that has gone horribly wrong unintentionally. It’s interesting to see Scott create such a dichotomy between technology and man when before he has been more focused on man using technology for his own gain (whether right or wrong, technology is often the driving force of the conflict in Scott’s digital films, or especially the later ones), but here there is a clear line drawn between that which is helpful to man and what isn’t, suggesting that if technology were to be out of man’s control then chaos is sure to follow, and is sure to be almost, if not entirely, impossible to harness control over without the use of other technology (this time under the control of man once more, of course). It’s an interesting, if somewhat subtle, change in perspective and it comes through in a rather subdued fashion. The suggestion of change in ideology also makes it harder to stomach this as a final work, when the room for growth was clearly there and also clearly ready to be occupied by these new ideas.

Scott’s cinematography also takes an interesting turn here, opting for a more verite style of camerawork as opposed to his usually more slick style which seems more planned out beforehand. It’s hard to say if this is anything more than an interesting visual change that adds to the immediacy of the events of the plot or if it is intended to suggest something more, but I find it an interesting point of change, another suggestion of changing styles and ideas that will sadly never be fulfilled entirely. Unstoppable is one hell of a final film, as much as I wish it wasn’t one, and it definitely deserves to be seen by those fans of Michael Mann’s digital work. In fact, Mann is quite similar to Scott in many ways – it’s not entirely coincidental that I have written on both so extensively. 

Anyway, this brings us to an end of Tony Scott’s work… the short films are also interesting, but they only really tell us what we already know about Scott in smaller ways, so they’re not necessarily too important to talk about in terms of his changing style, but they are good fun and should be watched!! To close, here is my personal (and always changing, so don’t take my word for this entirely, especially if reading a while after I have posted this!) ranking of his films, from least favourite to favourite! Thank you very much for reading.

The Last Boy Scout (6/10)

Beverly Hills Cop 2 (6/10)

Spy Game (7/10)

True Romance (7/10)

Top Gun (7/10)

Enemy of the State (7/10)

Crimson Tide (8/10)

Days of Thunder (8/10)

Man on Fire (8/10)

The Hunger (8/10)

Unstoppable (9/10)

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (9/10)

The Fan (9/10)

Revenge (9/10)

Deja Vu (9/10)

Domino (10/10)

Image result for tony scott on set

2 thoughts on “The Tony Scott Retrospective

  1. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I抣l try to get the hang of it!


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