We celebrate the work of the the late Tony Scott, the South Shields-born film director who gave us Top Gun, True Romance and his masterful swansong, Unstoppable.
It goes without saying that the news of Tony Scott's passing is profoundly upsetting, not just for fans of challenging, innovative, politically-inclined action cinema, but for anyone who has ever seen or been inspired by one of his films. The circumstances surrounding his death are tragic to say the least and, at time of writing, the motives behind his decision to take his own life remain unclear.
It must be said that, at a certain point in time, perhaps back in the late '90s and through to the early/mid 2000s, critical stock in Tony Scott's brand of high-styled, all-American filmmaking was not particularly high. Yes, his films were, for the most part, significant successes, with titles like True Romance, Crimson Tide and Top Gun all firmly nestled within the heart of the cultural zeitgeist and examples of immaculate, till-ringing Hollywood entertainment. But a critical darling he was not. And, it appeared, proudly so.
Yet, by 2007 and the release of his caustic time-travelling revenge fantasia, Deja Vu, Scott was on the road to becoming a bona fide cinephile cause celebre. And then to see, via the BFI, the re-release of his little-known, 1971 debut feature, Loving Memory – a seductive and sensitive bucolic thriller which presented an altogether more restrained side to his directorial craftsmanship – only offered confirmation of the director's newly earned critical plaudits.
Though it's rare to find someone who doen't have a favourite Tony Scott movie (a testament in itself to the director's showman-like abilities to create cinema for both broad and discerning audiences), it was only with his superb runaway train movie, Unstoppable, from 2010, that he really clicked for me. Personally, I'd found some of his more recent films, notably Domino and Man on Fire, wantonly and unpalatably violent, both appearing as advertisements for the chic domains of bounty hunting and vigilantism respectively.
Operating as almost a mirror image to his previous film, a remake of Joseph Sargent's 1974 subway siege saga, The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable presented a different side to the director, offering a wistful lament to American blue collar labourers and encasing their struggles inside a constantly crescendoing action spectacular that was easily one of the best of its type since Jan de Bont's Speed.
Though its easy to take a literal reading of the film as a story of big corporations mis-treating its rank-and-file workers and then having the balance of power shift away from them, Unstoppable is also one of the great modern war movies in the way it deals with young men sent to die for some spurious higher cause. It's a work which clearly depicts how difficult it is to dictate a potentially combustable situation while being physically divorced from its dangerous realities.
Politics aside, Unstoppable – which will also go down as one of the great cinematic swansongs – also cemented the now-classic director-star team of Scott and regular leading man, Denzel Washington. The pair had worked together on four previous films (Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Deja Vu and Pelham 123), and through Scott, Washington was gifted with some of his most complex character assignments.
Indeed, though my memory of Man on Fire is anything but positive, there is something fascinating in the way it toys with Washington's screen persona and mischievously tests the boundaries of how far down the dark road of Death Wish-style honour killing one could coerce this leading man and his million dollar smile.
And lest we forget, he was the man that gave us Tom Cruise. Yes, we may have already seen his toothsome talents in Risky Business and The Outsiders, but it wasn't until Top Gun that Cruise was able to power into to the golden jet streams of Tinseltown lore.
Scott's Wikipedia entry contains this line: "Scott's films were generally box office successes, though he was never nominated for an Academy Award and received little critical praise." Sad events like this do naturally prompt undiscriminating celebration from distressed onlookers, yet it's heartening to see the sincere outpouring of love that has arrived via various news and social networking websites.
Our collective challenge – and it is a worthy one! – should be to go back and give Scott his proper critical dues. We urge everyone reading this to go home this evening and raise a glass to Scott by lighting up the biggest cigar you can buy, donning a batted red baseball cap and remember him by (re)watching one of movies.