A true ManArchist, Tony Scott’s early films were the very definition of manhood for us kids who aspired to (read: prayed for) an accelerated version of it. They put hair on your chest. Whether it was to slap that shit-eating grin off of Iceman’s face, knock boots with Patricia Arquette in a phone booth, vibrate with the exhilaration of a stock car at 220 miles per hour, or just to wisecrack about exceedingly-white detectives, Scott lensed these vicarious thrills that probably landed us in detention for mimicking them. All while sporting that ubiquitous, knappy, red ball cap of his.
It’s rare that filmmakers become more experimental as their careers progress, but that’s exactly what Tony did. His trademark visual style, often imitated (and criticized), included aggressive filtration for those saturated skies. His blue-tinted, silhouetted sex scenes took our breath away. But in later films like Man on Fire, Déjà Vu, and especially Domino, the cinematography and editing got hyper- stylized and -kinetic. Frenetic, really, with its hand-cranked effects, speed ramps, flash frames, and patchwork film-stock choices.
We don’t yet know what could’ve compelled such a respected and talented man to take his own life.* But in tribute, here’s a hastily-compiled retrospective of a few of his most-memorable films.
1) True Romance
Fueled by its whip-smart Tarantino script, this was an early favorite when I first immersed myself in cinema. A loser antihero you could identify with, a loyal babe on his arm, and an epic Mexican standoff ending in a hailstorm of bullet casings and feathers. Gary Oldman delivers an unforgettable pimpin’ performance, and Christopher Walken’s interrogation of Dennis Hopper remains my all-time favorite dialogue scene, studied by actors and scribes alike. If only he would’ve cut that horrid, lighthearted musical theme throughout.
2) Top Gun
I loathed pre-Jerry Maguire Tom Cruise. Whenever his latest film would come up in conversation, I’d say, “Oh, is that the one where he’s the young hotshot who plays by his own rules and still gets the girl in the end?” That machismo is embodied in this film like no other, though I came to appreciate it as an adult, orange skies and all.
3) Man on Fire
Scott actually intended to make this film around the time of Top Gun. It’s far more character-focused than most of his work, the conflict raging internally instead of externally, and he relies on every visual trick in his bag to illustrate Denzel’s fractured state. The result is gorgeous, and righteous, and we all want to save that little Fanning girl.
4) Enemy of the State
“It’s not paranoia if they’re really after you.” Fast-paced is an understatement, with a cut every two seconds on average. With Gene Hackman evoking his classic role in The Conversation, and Will Smith reeling in his … um … Will Smithness in favor of drama, this one’s a winner. And prescient.
5) The Last Boy Scout
Maybe it’s just because Damon Wayans’s character was named “Flash,” but I loved this film in its time, now a guilty pleasure of sorts. So dark. Bruce Willis, down on his luck, able to take a punch, and always ready with a wry quip, fucked over one too many times. And hey, script by Shane Black.
I’ll leave you with some anecdotal Tweaction from his filmmaking peers. Talk to me, Goose.
Tony always sent personal, handwritten notes & always drew a cartoon caricature of himself, smoking a cigar, with his hat colored in red. — Joe Carnahan (@carnojoe) August 20, 2012
Tony Scott. Damn. Great knowing you, buddy. Thanks for the inspiration, advice, encouragement, and the decades of great entertainment. — Robert Rodriguez (@Rodriguez) August 20, 2012
Tony Scott was incredibly encouraging to me at an early stage of my career. He was generous, gregarious & immensely talented. Sadness. — mark romanek (@markromanek) August 20, 2012
When we edited ‘Hot Fuzz’ we used the ‘Man On Fire’ soundtrack as a temp score. So I know that film and Tony’s work on it off by heart. — edgarwright (@edgarwright) August 20, 2012