If you’re a fan of film, take a moment in your day to remember Tony Scott, who apparently committed suicide yesterday in San Pedro by jumping off a bridge. Scott left notes explaining his actions but at the moment what’s in those messages hasn’t been made public. Scott’s probably best known for the film Top Gun, and also made Crimson Tide, True Romance and most recently Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington (with whom he made several hit films).
I was a fan of much of Scott’s work. He didn’t have the critical acclaim that his brother Ridley Scott achieved with his films, but what he did have was reliability — his films were solidly-built entertainments with enough flair to keep you watching. He didn’t make the films that make the Best Picture nomination slate; he made the pictures that when you were flipping through the cable channels, you would stop when you saw one on. Seriously, if you can manage to escape watching Crimson Tide for the 15,000th time, you’re a better man than I. He was very good at what he did, and what he did was put butts in seats, pretty much every time out. That’s a talent most directors wish they could have.
If I had to peg a film of his as my favorite, I would nominate two. The first would be the aforementioned Crimson Tide, which I think should probably be taught in film schools as a prime example of the “90s action film” genre. It should be taken apart at the atomic level so budding filmmakers understand why this sort of thing works as well as it does; that is, if the students and professor can stop from getting sucked into just watching it. The second is True Romance, which Scott directed off a script by a then-up-and-coming screenwriter named Quentin Tarantino. Truth to be told, the script is not top-flight Tarantino — the only scripts I would put under it in his canon are Deathproof and the silly squib he added at the end of Four Rooms (and maybe From Dusk Til Dawn, although I question whether that one was ever meant to be “good”) — but it is perfect for Tony Scott: Perfect for his visual and artistic sensibility, perfect for his competencies as a director, perfect for his understanding of cinema. As a result the film is better as art than its script would suggest and than its director would normally achieve. Great art? Go argue about that. Good art? Yes, I think so.
I am sad there will be no more Tony Scott films. Reliable directors are hard to come by, and ones that produce reliably entertaining films are even harder to find. I hope that despite whatever drove him to jump off a bridge, he has now found some measure of peace. I’ll watch Crimson Tide sometime this week and think well of him.
Update, 12:21pm: ABC News reports a source saying Scott had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.
Update, 8/12: Family says it wasn’t brain cancer.