At a Detroit theater showing kung fu films, Alabama Whitman strikes up a conversation with Elvis Presley fanatic Clarence Worley. They later have sex at Clarence's apartment in downtown Detroit. Alabama tearfully confesses that she is a call girl hired by Clarence's boss as a birthday present but has fallen in love with Clarence. They marry.
An apparition of Elvis visits Clarence and convinces him to kill Alabama's pimp Drexl. Clarence goes to the brothel where Alabama worked, shoots and kills Drexl, and takes a bag he assumes contains Alabama's belongings. Back at the apartment, he and Alabama discover the bag contains a large amount of cocaine.
The couple visit Clarence's estranged father, Clifford, a former cop and now a security guard, for help. Clifford tells Clarence that the police assume Drexl's murder is a gang killing. After the couple leave for Los Angeles, Clifford is interrogated by Don Vincenzo Coccotti, consigliere to a mobster named "Blue Lou Boyle", who wants the drugs. Clifford, realizing he will die anyway, mockingly defies Coccotti. Infuriated, Coccotti shoots Clifford dead. A note on the refrigerator leads the mobsters to Clarence's L.A. address.
In L.A., Clarence and Alabama meet Clarence's friend Dick, an aspiring actor. Dick introduces Clarence to a friend of his, actor Elliot Blitzer, who reluctantly agrees to broker the sale of the drugs to film producer Lee Donowitz. While Clarence is out buying lunch, Coccotti's underboss, Virgil, finds Alabama in her motel room and beats her for information. She fights back and kills him with his shotgun.
Elliot is pulled over for speeding and arrested for drug possession. To stay out of jail, he agrees to record the drug deal between Clarence and Donowitz for the police. Coccotti's crew learn where the deal will take place from Dick's roommate Floyd. Clarence, Alabama, Dick, and Elliot go to Donowitz's suite at the Ambassador Hotel with the drugs. In the elevator, a suspicious Clarence threatens Elliot at gunpoint, but is persuaded by Elliott's pleading.
Clarence fabricates a story for Donowitz that the drugs were given to him by a corrupt cop, and Donowitz agrees to the sale. Clarence excuses himself to the bathroom, where a vision of Elvis reassures him that things are going well. Donowitz and his bodyguards are ambushed by the cops and mobsters and a shootout begins after Elliott accidentally reveals himself as an informant. Dick abandons the drugs and flees. Almost everyone is killed in the gun battle, and Clarence is wounded as he exits the bathroom. He and Alabama escape with Donowitz's money as more police arrive. They flee to Mexico where Alabama gives birth to a son, whom she names Elvis.Christian Slater as Clarence Worley
Patricia Arquette as Alabama Whitman
Michael Rapaport as Dick Ritchie
Bronson Pinchot as Elliot Blitzer
Saul Rubinek as Lee Donowitz
Dennis Hopper as Clifford Worley
James Gandolfini as Virgil
Gary Oldman as Drexl Spivey
Christopher Walken as Don Vincenzo Coccotti
Chris Penn as Detective Nicky Dimes
Tom Sizemore as Detective Cody Nicholson
Michael Beach as Officer Wurlitzer
Brad Pitt as Floyd
Val Kilmer as "Mentor" (Elvis Presley)
Samuel L. Jackson as Big Don
Conchata Ferrell as Mary Louise Ravencroft
Anna Thomson as Lucy
Paul Bates as Marty
Victor Argo as Lenny
Frank Adonis as Frankie (Franco)
Kevin Corrigan as Marvin
Paul Ben-Victor as Luca
Eric Allan Kramer as Boris
Ed Lauter as Captain Quiggle
The title and plot are a play on the titles of romance comic books such as "True Life Secrets", "True Stories of Romance", "Romance Tales", "Untamed Love" and "Strange Love".
True Romance was a breakthrough for Tarantino. Released after Reservoir Dogs, it was his first screenplay for a major motion picture, and Tarantino contends that it is his most autobiographical film to date. He had hoped to also direct the film, but lost interest in directing and sold the script. According to Tarantino's audio commentary on the DVD release, he was happy with the way it turned out. Apart from changing the nonlinear narrative he wrote to a more conventional linear structure, it was largely faithful to his original screenplay. He initially opposed director Tony Scott's decision to change the ending (which Scott maintained was of his own volition, not the studio's, saying "I just fell in love with these two characters and didn’t want to see them die"). When seeing the completed film, he realized Scott's happy ending was more appropriate to the film as Scott directed it. The film's first act, as well as some fragments of dialogue, were repurposed from Tarantino's 1987 amateur film My Best Friend's Birthday.
The film's score by Hans Zimmer is a theme based on Gassenhauer from Carl Orff's Schulwerk. This theme combined with a voiceover spoken by Arquette is an homage to Terrence Malick's 1973 crime film Badlands, in which Sissy Spacek speaks the voiceover, and that also shares similar dramatic motifs.
Reviews for the film were largely positive. It holds a "fresh" score of 92% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.5 out of 10, based on 51 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Fueled by Quentin Tarantino's savvy screenplay and a gallery of oddball performances, Tony Scott's True Romance is a funny and violent action jaunt in the best sense".
Phil Villarreal of the Arizona Daily Star called it "one of the most dynamic action films of the 1990s". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it three stars, saying "it's Tarantino's gutter poetry that detonates True Romance. This movie is dynamite."
Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review remarking that "the energy and style of the movie are exhilarating", and that "the supporting cast is superb, a roll call of actors at home in these violent waters: Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, and Brad Pitt, for example". A negative review by The Washington Post's Richard Harrington claimed the film was "stylistically visceral" yet "aesthetically corrupt".
Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "True Romance, a vibrant, grisly, gleefully amoral road movie directed by Tony Scott and dominated by the machismo of Quentin Tarantino (who wrote this screenplay before he directed Reservoir Dogs), is sure to offend a good-sized segment of the moviegoing population".
Although a critical success, True Romance was a box office failure. It was given a domestic release and earned $12.3 million on a $12.5 million budget. Despite this, the film developed a cult following over the years.
Empire ranked True Romance the 157th greatest film of all time in 2008.
The Hopper/Walken scene, colloquially named "The Sicilian scene", has been praised. Tarantino himself has named it as one of his proudest moments. "I had heard that whole speech about the Sicilians a long time ago, from a black guy living in my house. One day I was talking with a friend who was Sicilian and I just started telling that speech. And I thought: 'Wow, that is a great scene, I gotta remember that'."
Oldman's villain also garnered acclaim. MSN Movies wrote, "With just a few minutes of screen time, Gary Oldman crafts one of cinema's most memorable villains: the brutal, dreadlocked pimp Drexl Spivey. Even in a movie jammed with memorable cameos from screen luminaries [...] Oldman's scar-faced, dead-eyed, lethal gangster stood out." Jason Serafino of Complex named Spivey as one of the top five coolest drug dealers in movie history, writing, "He's not in the film for a long time, but the few scant moments that Gary Oldman plays the psychotic dealer Drexl Spivey make True Romance a classic ... Oldman gave us a glimpse at one of cinema's most unfiltered sociopaths."
"Robbers", a song by the English indie rock band The 1975 from their 2013 debut album, was inspired by the film. Vocalist Matthew Healy explained: "I got really obsessed with the idea behind Patricia Arquette's character in True Romance when I was about eighteen. That craving for the bad boy in that film [is] so sexualized."
Brad Pitt's stoner character in True Romance, Floyd, was the inspiration for making the film Pineapple Express, according to producer Judd Apatow. Apatow "thought it would be funny to make a movie in which you follow that character out of his apartment and watch him get chased by bad guys".
The True Romance: Motion Picture Soundtrack was produced by Hans Zimmer and it has mostly rock music from the '50s, with also rock music from the '90s.Track listing
Songs not included
- "You're So Cool" – Hans Zimmer (3:40)
- "Graceland" – Charlie Sexton (3:25)
- "In Dreams" – John Waite (3:45)
- "Wounded Bird" – Charles & Eddie (5:10)
- "I Want Your Body" – Nymphomania (4:18)
- "Stars at Dawn" – Hans Zimmer (2:04)
- "I Need a Heart to Come Home To" – Shelby Lynne (4:20)
- "Viens Mallika Sous Le Dome Edais" – Léo Delibes (3:56)
- "(Love Is) The Tender Trap" – Robert Palmer (3:37)
- "Outshined" – Soundgarden (5:12)
- "Amid the Chaos of the Day" – Hans Zimmer (4:54)
- "Two Hearts" – Chris Isaak (3:33)
- "White Wedding" – Billy Idol
- "Skinny (They Can't Get Enough) – The Skinny Boys
- "Heartbreak Hotel" – Val Kilmer
- "Chantilly Lace" – The Big Bopper
- "The Other Side – Aerosmith
- "Everybody Loves Somebody" – Jerry Del Monico
- "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" – The Shirelles
- "Raga Yagaman" – Clem Alford
- "A Little Bitty Tear" – Burl Ives
- "Learnin' the Blues" – Jerry Del Monico
- "Duetto Dei Fiori" – Léo Delibes