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Film / True Romance

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Tired of relationships? Try a romance.

True Romance is a 1993 American romantic crime comedy film written by Quentin Tarantino (based on a script by Roger Avary) and directed by Tony Scott. It stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, with a supporting cast that includes Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, and a then-relatively-unknown James Gandolfini. It was scored by Hans Zimmer.

It tells the story of outlaw lovers Clarence Worley (Slater) and Alabama Whitman (Arquette), who accidentally steal a suitcase full of cocaine and then go on the run from the mob. The couple make their way to Hollywood to sell the drugs — but it's there that the mob catches up with them.

The film is notable, beyond its star-launching casting, for being the film that put Tarantino's writing on the map of Hollywood. It was his first screenplay for a major motion picture, and although he originally hoped to direct it, he eventually sold it in order to finance his directorial debut feature Reservoir Dogs, which was released around a year prior to this film. Tarantino has gone on record describing the screenplay as his most autobiographical to date.

A notable part of True Romance's legacy is its influence on future media works. Among other examples, Brad Pitt's stoner character Floyd inspired the creation of Pineapple Expressnote , and the film helped James Gandolfini land the role of Tony Soprano on The Sopranos (as he was invited to audition after the show's casting director saw a clip of his performance as Virgil).

This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Don Vincenzo appears to have this reaction to Clifford's jibes about Sicilians being spawned by Black people. It turns out Don Vincenzo actually finds it pretty unamusing, as he headshots Clifford for the tirade. Or he respected Clifford's courage, but couldn't allow his disrespect to go unpunished.
    Don Vincenzo: I haven't killed anybody since 1984.
  • Aerosol Flamethrower: Alabama uses one on Virgil.
  • AM/FM Characterization: Clarence is a huge fan of Elvis Presley, to the extent that Elvis appears as his conscience. He and Alabama also bond over their shared love of Janis Joplin.
  • And a Diet Coke: Clarence goes to buy "the two biggest, fattest burgers" a burger stand has, two chili fries... and a Diet Coke.
  • And This Is for...: When Nicky Dimes finishes off Boris, one of Lee Donowitz's bodyguards:
    Dimes: This is for Cody. Bang!
  • Arch-Enemy: Drexl Spivey, Vincenzo Coccotti, and Virgil to Clarence Worley and Alabama Whitman.
  • Asshole Victim: Invoked by Clarence's Spirit Advisor after Clarence kills Drexl.
    Clarence's Mentor / Elvis Presley: You think a cop gives a fuck about a pimp? Listen. Every pimp in the world gets shot. Two in the back of the fuckin' head. Cops'd throw a party, man.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: In the director's cut ending, before when Alabama shoots at Nicky,, she shouts a loud "FUCK YOU!".
  • Author Avatar: Clarence, with his love of Elvis Presley, Marvel Comics and classic movies, is clearly a stand-in for Tarantino.
  • Ax-Crazy: Drexl and to a slightly lesser extent, Virgil.
  • Babies Ever After: Aww, Elvis.
  • Badass Boast:
    Vincent Coccotti: I'm The Antichrist. You got me in a "vendetta" kind of mood. You can tell the angels in heaven you never seen the evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you.
  • Bathroom Brawl: Virgil attempts to torture Alabama in a bathroom to get her to reveal where Clarence and the drugs are, but she ends up getting the last laugh when she blinds him with shampoo, hits him with the toilet cover, sprays him with hairspray, stabs him, shoots him multiple times with a shotgun, and then beats him with the shotgun barrel, just in case.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted in the fight between Alabama and Virgil. Alabama is left looking absolutely brutal afterwards and spends the rest of the film with the resulting bruises which she has to explain away.
  • Benevolent Boss: While he can be snarky and short-tempered, Lee does seem to have genuine affection for Elliott, saying he viewed him like a son, and is absolutely devastated when he finds out that Elliott was the one who led the cops to him.
  • Berserk Button: Vincenzo Coccotti is called in to find Clarence Worley, who killed a pimp in his employ and unwittingly took off with the mob's drugs. Vincenzo pays a visit to Clarence's father Clifford. Knowing that Vincenzo is going to kill him no matter what, Clifford endeavors to piss him off so that he'll die without giving up the location of his son, which he does by going into one hell of a speech about how "Sicilians were spawned from niggers." And it works.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Alabama, easily the nicest character in the film as Virgil finds out to his peril. See There Is No Kill Like Overkill for the details.
  • Big Bad: Vincenzo Coccotti.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Alabama and Clarence are thieves and a murderer in Clarence's case who plan to sell stolen drugs for their own benefit and do so to Lee Donowitz who is heavily implied to be a dealer among Hollywood circles. The cops are on the side of the law but are also fairly ruthless in their intimidation of Elliott, quite willing to send him to prison if he doesn't cooperate. The gangsters chasing them however are much worse and have no issue killing innocents to get back their drugs.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Floyd D., Big Don and Marty are the first three characters to die.
  • Blast Out: A bloody shootout occurs between The Mafia, the LAPD and two Hired Guns and the protagonists, all in the same room.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The NC-17 version is bloodier, gorier, and way more graphically violent than the theatrical release.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: When Virgil is about to shoot Alabama, she proves she is willing to fight back. This impresses him enough to put his gun away and instead start a brawl in which Alabama gets the upper hand and finishes Virgil off in spectacular fashion.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Mostly averted. Clarence fires his revolver five times in one scene and police can be seen reloading their guns during the shootout. The Gangsters can also be seen taking a massive amount of magazines and shotgun shells with them in a briefcase. However, Clarence does manage to kill Drexl and his bodyguard by firing seven shots out of a six shot revolver, although this is less overkill than most films.
  • Call-Back: On their date, Alabama says her favorite music is "Phil Spector girl-group stuff." When she gets back to the motel room to find Virgil, if you listen closely, you can hear the Crystals' recording of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" in the background.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
  • *Click* Hello: The mobsters are waiting for Clifford inside his house and introduce themselves in this way, with a pistol to his head.
  • Clue, Evidence, and a Smoking Gun: All the clues that Don Vincenzo could extract from Clifford's torture become redundant after they find Clarence's motel address written on a pinned paper just afterwards.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: When Clarence shoots Drexl.
    "Fuck you! Fuck you, you piece of shit!"
    • And another before the final shootout and when Elliot as he realizes he has been betrayed to the cops. Lee uses the drink on Elliot.
    "Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!"
  • Combat Pragmatist: Alabama averts the usual She-Fu trope hard by using anything and everything she can get her hands on as a weapon to fight back against and kill Virgil.
  • The Consigliere: Vincenzo Coccotti serves as this to the unseen Blue Lou Boyle.
  • Cop Hater: Lee's mooks.
    Boris: Hey, Lee, something I never told you about me: I hate fucking cops!
  • Cop Killer: In the director's cut Alabama shoots Nicky Dimes (dead?), assuming that he shot Clarence.
  • Defiant to the End:
    • Clifford is mocking the Sicilian mobsters knowing that he won't make it out alive.
    • Despite being visibly shaken up, Alabama laughs at Virgil having been bloodied by the Bust of Elvis she smacked him over the head with.
    Alabama: Wait!!
    Virgil: What for? ... What the fuck are you laughing it??
    Alabama: ... You look ridiculous!!
  • Disney Death: Clarence, after getting shot in the eye. The film certainly isn't a Disney film, though. Originally, Clarence was supposed to die, and Alabama gives a grief-stricken monologue cursing him before riding off with the money.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Lee is shot to death after he throws coffee on Elliot.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: At the big three way Mexican Stand Off at the end, everyone besides Alabama, Clarence, and Dick (and Vincenzo, who isn't there) dies or at least is shot and seriously wounded, and Clarence gets his eye shot out.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Clifford's dog provides a Five-Second Foreshadowing running away right before the mobsters ambush the man.
  • Eye Patch Of Power: Clarence, in the epilogue. Though, seeing as how he's only seen smiling and playing with his infant son, it's not all that scary.
  • Eye Scream: An offscreen one by Clarence to Drexl, who already has a blind eye. Later, Clarence also loses an eye in the shootout (ironically the same one).
  • Failed a Spot Check: Twice in the movie, the gangsters could have saved themselves a great deal of time and trouble — as well as probably fast enough to avoid the fatal confrontations near the end — if they had done even the bare minimum of detective work in their hunt for the stolen drugs.
    • After a ruthless and extraneous interrogation of Clifford Worley — who gives them nothing but the Sicilian speech — they murder him, and then one of them notices the information they were after was on a note pinned to his refrigerator. They could have found that as soon as they walked in, but chose to wait until Clifford got home from work to beat it out of him.
    • After viciously beating Alabama to within an inch of her life, she finally reveals to Virgil that the briefcase full of drugs is hidden... under the bed in the motel room they're in. Even Virgil himself can't believe he didn't look under the bed, after he waited however long for Alabama to return to her room and then wasted even more time beating her for information.
  • Fanservice: The make-out session in the phone booth, in particular.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Drexl really wants to be this, but it just makes him come off as an even bigger Jerkass than he already is.
    • Don Vincenzo and Virgil. Before their respective interrogations, they try being polite and cooperative to their victims. Eventually, they drop the pretenses.
  • Foreshadowing: Before starting the Mexican Standoff.
    Nicholson: Oh my god I forgot my fucking vest.
    Dimes: Stupid.
    • Averted, since his vest didn't save Dimes from Alabama.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: More like the-very-next-day marriage.
  • Funny Phone Misunderstanding: A conversation between producer Lee Donowitz and dogsbody Elliot Blitzer is complicated by their relatively early-generation cell phones and traffic in the background. Elliot tells Lee that protagonist Clarence is a friend of Dick Richie. Lee asks, "Who the fuck is Dick?" A bemused Elliot replies, "You want me to suck his dick?"
  • The Ghost: Blue Lou Boyle is the mafia kingpin who owns the dope. He's referred to a number of times, but the closest we get to him is his consigliere, Vincenzo Coccotti, who is terrifying enough on his own. A scene was written for Blue Lou (who was to be played by Robert De Niro), but it was never filmed.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: A uh, non sexual example. Clarence, after surviving his ordeal with Drexl, comes home with fast food and non-nonchalantly states that he has never had a cheeseburger taste this good before.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Drexl has a very evil scar.
  • Groin Attack: Clarence shoots Drexl in the groin, from on the floor beneath Drexl's spread legs. It looks even worse than it sounds.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: During the face-off between Vincenzo and Clifford, Clifford knows full well if he gives up his son they'll both be killed. So he taunts Vincenzo with the infamous Sicilian monologue, provoking Vincenzo into shooting him dead without any further torture. The Mooks still find clues that lead them to Clarence and Alabama.
  • Hidden Wire: The battery pack for the wire worn by Elliot drops down into his underpants, and he keeps trying to push it back up again. Fortunately no-one notices.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Alabama.
  • Hookers and Blow: One of the main characters is a prostitute and the plot concerns a suitcase full of cocaine. So, the film literally runs on this trope.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Clarence has a monologue explaining why he would have sex with Elvis.
  • Ignore the Fanservice: The scene in which Clarence confronts Drexl has a pretty nifty example. Drexl informs Clarence he has taken no notice of the pair o' titties on the tv screen next to him, to which Clarence responds with a neat retort that among other things explains both yes he has noticed, and no he does not care. Of course as a Quentin Tarantino hero he's already seen the movie and can rattle off its title and release date.
  • Insistent Terminology: Alabama is a call girl, not a whore.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Clifford taunts Vincenzo with some demographic facts about Sicilians. The result is that Vincenzo and his mooks stop torturing him and go straight to killing him, which plays out as a victory.
  • It Gets Easier: The hitman Virgil explaining to Alabama — in the process of beating her into a bloody mess — how hard it is at first to kill someone. He notes that he threw up after his first kill but by the third one he had "leveled off." He now kills people just to see their expressions change.
  • I Was Beaten by a Girl: Virgil.Brutally by Alabama.
  • Jerkass: Drexl.
  • Karma Houdini: Vincenzo, and also the mob boss Blue Lou Boyle, who remains unseen.
  • Karmic Death:
    • Drexl is shot in the groin.
    • Virgil is killed by a woman in an elaborate, over the top fashion after spending what was probably ten minutes torturing her.
  • Living Lie Detector: Vincenzo Coccotti claims that he is a master liar and therefore a master at spotting lies. It seems likely that the reason he reacts the way he does when Clifford starts to tell him about Sicilians' black heritage is because he can tell that Clifford really is telling the truth rather than simply making stuff up to insult him.
  • Luck-Based Search Technique: After beating Alabama bloody without finding out where the drugs are hidden, Virgil is bemused when he accidentally finds the suitcase hidden under the bed.
    Virgil: I can't believe you hid it under the bed. I can't believe I didn't look under the bed! I'm getting fucking old.
  • MacGuffin: The suitcase full of cocaine.
  • The Mafia: Frightening and dangerous and led by Christopher Walken.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: The phone booth? HOT.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Alabama drops into Clarence's life and takes an earnest liking to all of his weird, geeky tastes and interests. Except The Partridge Family. That's where she draws the line.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: 21 people die in the film, all of them men.
  • Meet Cute: Subverted. Clarence thinks he's having one of these, but Alabama has been paid to be there. Of course, then she does fall in love with him.
  • Mexican Standoff: Tarantino's trademark.
  • Moe Greene Special: How Clarence gets his Eyepatch of Power.
  • More Dakka: The reason Boris doesn't obey the cops is that he and his buddy are armed with a hell of a lot more firepower than the LAPD — also, he just hates cops.
  • Musical Pastiche: The theme "You're so Cool" by Hans Zimmer is near identical to "Gassenhauer" by Carl Orff.
  • Mythology Gag: Retroactively one is shared with Inglorious Basterds. Producer Lee Donowitz is Donnie Donowitz's descendant, according to Tarantino.
  • Nasal Trauma: Clifford's torture begins with Vincent Coccotti punching him hard in the nose, leaving Clifford with a hankie clamped over his bloody schnoz for the remainder of the scene. This is the nicest thing the Mafia have in store for him.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Lee Donowitz was probably written as a take on Oliver Stone, as a major Hollywood player and a bit of a coke-lover best known for directing a movie about The Vietnam War (Notably, this was before Tarantino very publicly disowned Stone's adaptation of one of his scripts). The rushes playing in his home are actually from Platoon. However, director Tony Scott stated that the character is based on producer Joel Silver in response to his negative experience directing The Last Boy Scout. According to him, he went out of his way to make sure the character looked, sounded, and acted exactly like Silver as an extended Take That!
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Virgil to Alabama. But then... see There Is No Kill Like Overkill.
  • Numbered Sequels: Discussed In-Universe. Hollywood producer Lee Donowitz is most famous for his 80s Vietnam action movie Coming Home in a Bodybag. When he asks his assistant Elliot (who's an informant for the cops by that point) about ideas for a sequel title, the latter just replies "Coming Home in a Bodybag 2". Donowitz snarks that his member is more creative than that.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Officers Dimes and Nicholson think they got things in control, with 7 cops against 2 bodyguards, the mob suddenly bursts into the Mexican Standoff with 4 additional guns.
    A cop: Holy shit...
    Nicholson: Motherfucker... Who are these guys ?? PUT YOUR GUNS DOWN!!
  • One Last Smoke: Although he quit smoking, Clifford indulges in one last smoke when he decides to commit suicide by gangster.
  • One-Steve Limit: Adverted with Floyd D., a low level street thug and Floyd the stoner roommate of Dick's.
  • Only Sane Man: Clifford is the only character in the film who isn’t a Cloudcuckoolander, Ax-Crazy, a violent criminal, or a Jerkass.
  • Orchestra Hit Techno Battle: The fight scene between Clarence and Drexl has "I Want Your Body" by Nymphomania playing in the background.
  • Outlaw Couple: Although they don't actually commit very much crime.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Vincenzo underscores getting his own hands dirty after offing Clifford. To say he's not happy about it is an understatement.
    (three headshots) Vincenzo: I haven't killed anybody (three more shots) since 1984.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Mafia. Clifford knows this, and uses it to provoke them into killing him immediately, before they can torture him to death.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Drexl thinks he's black, but he's mostly white, with maybe some Native American.
  • Psycho for Hire: Virgil, the hitman who seems to delight in torturing his victims first.
  • Rasputinian Death: After Alabama is beaten enough by Virgil, she stabs him in the foot with a cork screw, sets him on fire with an Aerosol Flamethrower, hits his head with both a toilet lid and a bust of Elvis, and then grabs a shotgun to finish him off. And even after Virgil's dead, Alabama hits the corpse with the unloaded weapon for good measure!
  • Red Shirt: Despite the fact that Samuel L. Jackson is billed in the opening credits, his character Big Don only gets a little over a minute of screentime before getting gunned down by Drexl.
  • Revised Ending: An alternate ending, which was Quentin Tarantino's original ending to the script. Clarence dies, and Alabama leaves alone with the money. She is then shown driving to Mexico alone, and she delivers a narrative monologue where she claims that she never really cared about Clarence, but used him to get away from Drexl and get money from the drugs. In the original script, she considers suicide after this, but ultimately doesn't.
  • Relative Button: In addition to insulting the infamous ethnic pride of Sicilian mobsters, the Sicilian Monologue also makes it personal when Clifford starts insinuating that some female ancestor of Vincenzo's slept with a black man.
  • Screaming Warrior: Once Alabama unambiguously gets the upper hand against Virgil and gets a hold of his shotgun, she comes off sounding like a Tusken Raider and even brandishes the shotgun as such.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Elliott attempts to ask Dimes to let him off from the Mexican standoff, but the latter refuses. This comes to bite him in the ass when it allowed Lee to discover who The Mole is.
    • Dick Richie manages to distract both the cops and Italians in the final shootout and high-tail it out of there.
  • Self-Plagiarism: The opening dialogue where says he'd fuck Elvis was lifted from a monologue in Tarantino's short film My Best Friend's Birthday.
  • Sensory Abuse: Alabama's raging scream that ensues at the end of the bathroom fight, complete with beating Virgil's body with a shotgun.
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: Frankie attempts to escape the hotel as every police car in Los Angeles descends upon it by taking a woman hostage. A police officer just shoots him in the shoulder, allowing her to escape and them to pump him full of lead.
  • Shout-Out: The use of "Gassenhauser" in the score could be seen as a reference to Badlands. That or Hans Zimmer ripping off Carl Orff.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Both Clarence and Nicky at some point in the movie say they knew something was rotten in Denmark.
  • Silent Offer: Clarence makes an offer in an envelope for his "peace of mind." The envelope is empty.
  • Sinister Shades: Clarence, Alabama, Marty and Frankie all wear 'em.
  • Slasher Smile: Virgil has a notable one when Alabama finds him in her hotel room.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • The upbeat techno music during the scene with Drexl
    • The calm soothing piece during the Virgil scene
    • The Sicilian ominous scene, mixing torture, death and Delibes' operistic piece "Flower Duet".
  • Spirit Advisor: Clarence occasionally gets advice from an apparition that behaves like Elvis Presley, whom Clarence is obsessed with.
  • Stupid Sexy Flanders: According to Clarence, "Elvis looked good. I mean, I ain't no fag, but Elvis was prettier than most women, you know? [...] You know, I always said if I had to fuck a guy [...] if my life depended on it, I'd fuck Elvis."
  • Stylistic Suck: Lee Donowitz's film within a film, Comin' Home in a Body Bag, appears to be an archetypal brain-dead 80s action movie, though Clarence talks about it like it's Apocalypse Now (though he is trying to butter Donowitz up in order to sell him a lot of cocaine, which might be a factor).
  • The Slacker: Floyd, Dick's roommate who never leaves the couch, played by Brad Pitt.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: Discussed. Drexl offers Clarence some of his Chinese food, but Clarence is more interested in looking hard to intimidate him. Drexl says that Clarence would have been more effective if he'd started chowing down as if he hadn't a care in the world.
  • The Stoner: Floyd is seen puffing on a honey bear bong.
  • Stupid Crooks: Clarence could have gotten away with all, but he left his driver license on a dead guy's hand.
    • Also Elliot, who drives over the speed limit while doing cocaine after arranging a major drug deal. And he only makes things worse after getting pulled over.
    • This even extends to Vincenzo Coccotti and his mafioso goons, the supposed professional criminals. Despite their arrogance and fancy suits, they're all thugs who can't solve a problem without torture, murder or the threat of either one.
  • Suicide by Cop: Clifford intentionally enrages the mafia gangsters so that they'll kill him outright before they can torture his son's location out of him.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: How do you fight for your life and win against someone who's over a foot taller than you, outweighs you by over a hundred pounds, and kills people for a living? As the fight between Alabama and Virgil shows, not fairly.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Virgil's death by interrogation: Virgil beats up Alabama, trying to find out where Clarence and the drugs he stole from Drexl Spivey are. Throwing her into the shower, she blinds him with shampoo, hits him over the head with the toilet cover, then sprays him with hairspray, stabs him once, and blasts him to hell with a shotgun, and once she's used up all the shells, strikes him with the shotgun barrel for good measure.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: The bust of Elvis pisses Virgil off more than it does make him flinch. Alabama can be heard moaning a pained "Oh god..."
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Virgil already had found the drugs (that were under the bed) and all he had to do was kill Alabama, wait for Clarence and kill him then bring the drugs back to his boss. Simple, right? But no...Instead he decided to taunt Alabama thinking that she wouldn't stand a chance against him. Big mistake...She fights back, gets the upper hand and finishes him off in a brutal manner.
    • Lee should have realized that throwing hot coffee at Elliott in response to the latter's betrayal is not a very good thing to do in the middle of a Mexican standoff.
    • Nicholson propably takes the whole cake for shooting Lee over said throwing of hot coffee and thus triggering the stand-off.
  • Too Kinky to Torture/I Shall Taunt You: Alabama goes out of her way to mock Virgil after using a Bust of Elvis on him.
  • Trigger-Happy: The entire last shootout, but the bodyguard Boris and his buddy are very gunhappy.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's not indicated whether the gangsters killed Floyd after they extracted information out of him. Given that at this point they lost Virgil, it would seem they'd kill the annoying stoner out of spite alone if not for pragmatic reasons. It's also unclear who might have survived the final fight, we see numerous people shot but don't know if they died.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Virgil ruthlessly and unscrupulously beats and tortures Alabama. Despite expressing admiration for her 'heart', he is also shown prepared to shoot her, but she eventually manages to kill him.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Open to interpretation, but the hearty laugh and the kiss on the cheek that Vincenzo gives Clifford before he shoots him indicates a sizable amount of respect for the balls the other man shows.
    • Virgil is impressed by Alabama's willingness to try and fight back with the corkscrew of a swiss army knife, prompting him to put his gun away and deliberately leave himself open as a taunt.
    • Nicky Dimes and Cody Nicholson become Clarence Worley fanboys despite running a sting operation against him because of his ability to weave a bull-shit story on the spot.