How James Gandolfini stole ‘True Romance’

24 Jun

True Romance (1993)

 

The first time I saw James Gandolfini was when I watched ‘True Romance’. The movie unexpectedly blew me away because when I first saw the poster, I thought it was gonna be another crappy predictable Hollywood crap. Didn’t realize it was written by Tarantino, didn’t know it was directed by Tony Scott . All I saw was a crappy poster that reminded me of a crappy 80’s rom-com movie but my sister begged me to see it because she thought it was an 80’s crappy rom-com, so after much debate I gave in. Besides, Christian Slater’s huge forehead always fascinated me and his trying too hard to act like Jack Nicholson kinda charming in small doses.

Fortunately, the movie ended up as one of my favorite movies, because it spoke to me on a personal level. Slater played this dude Clarence, who works in a comic books shop, a lonely guy who loves his pop culture trivia and obsessed with funky obscure movies; which was basically who I was at that moment, a geeky dude who loved his comics/music/films but always had trouble talking to girls. I never saw a character like that in a Hollywood movie before. Normally the geeky guys always looked like a complete loser to the point of beyond saving but Slater played his geeky character perfectly. Not too meek but not to coarse, just the right combination of coolness, charm and geekdom. In short, he was the geek that I was aspired to be.

Watching Clarence ends up with Alabama is probably right up there in every geek’s fantasy. You can’t help but root for him, a hot babe (who happens to be a prostitute) falls in love with a guy who works in a comic books shop who loves Sonny Chiba’s films, Elvis and John Woo’s ‘a better tomorrow part II’. They are madly in love, Clarence decides to tell Alabama’s pimp, Drexler she’s done working for him and ends up killing him and his men while mistakenly picking up a suitcase filled with cocaine that belongs to the Italian mob. The mob goes after Clarence and Alabama of course and the movie ends up in a fury cluster fuck of violence and introduces me to one of the scariest mob hit man in cinema in the form of Virgil played by James Gandolfini.

Many people always claimed it was Christoper Walken’s icy cold performance as the mob’s boss or Dennis Hopper’s sacrificial act when he gives off the great speech about how Italians have black’s blood pumping through their veins or Brad Pitt’s eternal performance as Floyd the dopey stoner that stole the movie. Nope, it’s not them. It was James Gandolfini who stole ‘True Romance’.

Gandolfini played Virgil to a scary perfection. Just as Slater gave Clarence a geeky coolness, Gandolfini gave Virgil a charming sinister spin. There is something unsettling about Virgil’s smirk that gives off a friendly boyish charm on the outset but simmering with evil underneath. It’s the kind of smile that is both unsettling and yet disarming at the same time.

When Virgil questions Floyd the whereabouts of Clarence we get a glimpse of Virgil’s sinister charm, a prelude before the classic showdown between Virgil and Alabama. Having Virgil just standing at the doorway while patiently questioning the stoned Floyd is both funny and unnerving. We know death is standing at the doorway, we know Floyd is scared shitless and trying hard to conceal it. We anticipate shit will go down at any moment now. We expect Virgil to go gung-ho and kicks the door open because that’s what we’re accustomed to seeing in thousands of movies, but instead Virgil plays it cool and lets his charm intimidate Floyd. And it works. The only way Floyd knows how to stay alive is by telling the truth which he does. Floyd is the only character Pitt ever played in his career where he almost shit in his pants. Let’s think about that for a moment.

The scene where Virgil catches up with Alabama is easily one of the most hard to watch scenes in Hollywood mainstream movies because it is primal and downright brutal. This isn’t a scene where the good guy acts cool and kicking ass and you know he’s gonna come out ok while cracking up a one liner. This is the scene where you think Alabama could actually die because Virgil is beating the life out of her, she looks mangled, abused and one inch closer to death. And then Virgil out of the blue pulls back and gives out his monologue about what it feels like to kill someone.

VIRGIL 

Now the first time you kill somebody, that’s the hardest. I don’t give a shit if you’re fuckin’ Wyatt Earp or Jack the Ripper. Remember that guy in Texas? The guy up in that fuckin’ tower that killed all them people? I’ll bet you green money that first little black dot he took a bead on, that was the bitch of the bunch. First one is tough, no fuckin’ foolin’. The second one… the second one ain’t no fuckin’ Mardis Gras either, but it’s better than the first one ’cause you still feel the same thing, y’know… except it’s more diluted, y’know it’s… it’s better. I threw up on the first one, you believe that? Then the third one… the third one is easy, you level right off. It’s no problem. Now… shit… now I do it just to watch their fuckin’ expression change.

Gandolfini made it work because for a moment he made Virgil’s humanity seeps through. He portrayed Virgil as a guy who’s done this too many times and he knows he’s already lost his humanity and for a second tries to reflect upon it. The thing is why would Virgil let his guard down? He wasn’t in danger or hurt. Was he toying with Alabama? Was he tired and simply taking a break? Whatever it was Gandolfini was able to make Virgil a complex and a believable character. Virgil is not just another two dimensional henchman or enforcer. He is a living and breathing human being who’s made some terrible choices in his life and he knows he is beyond repair. He doesn’t want reprisal or redemption, he’s not looking to shine a light onto his dark soul.

Gandolfini’s performance practically set him up for the upcoming role of a lifetime that will change Television forever, Tony Soprano. A role he was born to play but to me Tony is just an extension of Virgil. I already caught a glimpse of Tony in those few scenes Gandolfini brilliantly played Virgil and managed to outshine everyone in ‘True Romance’. For that I will always be grateful to Gandolfini because he showed me that evil is as real as your charming bigoted uncle who would take you out for an ice cream and sincerely cares about you and your family. The darkness is always around us and it will never leave.

 tintascreenplay.com

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