After Tony Scott’s unfortunate demise, I thought it would be fitting to see where Top Gun fits in the complete canon of his work. And I completely loaded that canon.

See what I did there?

On Day 1, I watched the top row of films. I wasn’t particularly blown away, but I saw that Tony Scott had the occasional eye for artistry when he was allowed to take advantage of an R-rating and wasn’t trying to capture the spark of a previous film. On Day 2, I watched from The Last Boy Scout to The Fan. Each film was absolutely incredible except for The Fan; I declared Boy Scout, True Romance, and Crimson Tide to be his Holy Trinity.

And now, Day 3.

ENEMY OF THE STATE

Previous viewings: Saw it edited-for-TV when I was 15 or 16.

I think we’ve entered Tony Scott’s political phase. Crimson Tide was all about government policy in regards to nuclear authority; this pertains to government surveillance ethics. Granted, it isn’t particularly clever. At times, it almost seems to be there so the audience can feel smart talking about it when the film ends. I like feeling smart sometimes.

I’d call this Prime Will Smith. He’s moving beyond It Just Be Raining Black People in New York Will Smith, but he never becomes Oscar Bait Will Smith. And why should he, with material like this?

So our premise here is that somebody important gets murdered on tape and that tape must be hidden. They hide it on Will Smith, and now he’s on the run. Again, this movie wears a coat of being a deep political thriller, but it quickly strips down to reveal that it is just DUMB. But here’s the thing; this is my kind of dumb movie. Guys running, satellites making beepy noises, tapes being sneakily dropped into bags, men in suits talking too fast, tracking pants. Tracking pants, for God’s sake. This is my brand of mindless. Bring it on.

Oh, did I mention the bag scene? Let’s talk about the bag scene.

So the whole movie revolves around the premise that we are constantly being recorded by surveillance equipment at all times, and isn’t that scary? That’s legitimately something to think of when the movie ends, which is what makes it a bit intense. What utterly shatters that intensity is then showing that the characters of the film also live in a goddamned holodeck. That bag up there? That bag was caught on a video camera in a lingerie store, then turned into a 3-D image and rotated to see what was on the other side. You can do that in a sci-fi movie; you can’t do that today. Why couldn’t they say, “Go to the camera on the other side of the room”? It’s something you just have to laugh your way through to continue enjoying the movie. And I did with some success.

Things start getting hilarious when Gene Hackman shows up (at 57:46, I might add). He immediately starts giving Will Smith rape-faces, throws him into an elevator, and puts his shoe in a bag of chips. Really. And again, I love this sort of shit. (When I was a little one, I had a book on how to tail someone, which is absolutely useless when you live in the sticks, unless you own a tree costume.) Spy shenanigans are the modern version of sorcery. Instead of “boil a newt’s eye in pig’s blood,” it’s “nobody can detect plutonium in a jar of mayonnaise, so put on this butcher’s costume and begin your spy quest.” Later in the film, Gene and Will run into a cat, and Cinemanaut John quipped, “Oh no, the cat’s bugged! Put it in a bag of pretzels and drop it down the dumbwaiter, goddammit!”

I don’t know if spy shenanigans like these are John’s cup of tea.

“Tell me you didn’t use that picture of me you’re always using.”

Did you think we were done with the bag scene? We’re not. Later in the film, they can’t make a positive ID on somebody outside because “he never looks up.” Why don’t you scan his face and rotate it, guys? Can’t you do that?

Oh, and there’s this really bizarre side story about how much Will Smith’s character loves making smoothies, which comes out when his blender is stolen. Actual line: “Some people meditate. Some people get massages. I blend.” What? I know it’s neat to give your protagonist a nutty hobby, but that one feels pulled from the bottom of the Character Quirk barrel. Unless… is it supposed to be a double meaning? He has to blend in to get away from the bad guys? Ohhhhhh… that’s deep.

Overall, I wouldn’t call Enemy of the State a great movie, but I had fun with it. I’d watch it on TV or throw it on again some lazy weekend. Can’t complain.

SPY GAME

Previous viewings: My dad rented the VHS when I was 17. I remember liking it. It was one of the first R-rated movies that I didn’t have to sneak out of the house to see. (Shhhh!)

What a difference 11 years makes, huh? I did not enjoy this. I think Tony Scott tries to do a fun movie, then a serious movie for a little more credibility. His last “serious” movie, in my opinion, was Crimson Tide, and he did everything right. Here… he misread “serious” as “boring.” Just… just so boring.

Full disclosure: The DVD I bought was fullscreen, and we absolutely could not get the English subtitles to turn off. No idea why. Every time we went to the subtitle menu, they would stay off until the next chapter stop. And guess what? Even being able to read all the spy shit they were talking about… this was really one big snore. Hell, even the DVD menu’s most exciting moment is when a chair gets thrown off a roof. Not as part of an action sequence; just Brad Pitt being kinda angry.

“Oh no, the chair’s bugged!”

Our nutshell plot is that Brad Pitt is captured on the other side of the world by nasty people and Robert Redford must get him back without raising suspicion or a trade agreement won’t go through. Throughout the whole ordeal, the tale of how Pitt and Redford came to know each other is shown in flashbacks. This is a great premise for a movie; why could I not bring myself to care?

By the way, here is Brad Pitt’s character serving in Vietnam, the spring of ’75.

And here is the real Brad Pitt two years later, in 1977, at age 14.

Robert Redford pulls off this cunning operation called Dinner Out, which is very clever indeed, you see, because while making the phone call in the middle of an important meeting, it sounds like he’s making plans with his wife. Pretty amusing set-up, eh? Well, it’s the climax. That’s the big “gotcha” ending. Whoopty spies.

Say, what’s Denzel up to lately?

MAN ON FIRE

Previous viewings: None.

So, remember back in my Ebert viewing when I analyzed the chemistry between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in Top Gun? Particularly, the unfortunate lack of it? Yeah, you won’t find any problems like that in Man on Fire.

Denzel and Gene Hackman really brought the acting fury in Crimson Tide, but guess what? Dakota Fanning tops it. And I’m surprised. Kid actors, am I right? But just like in Last Boy Scout, a kid ain’t so bad here. Denzel Washington plays John Creasy, a bodyguard with a drinking problem who’s been hired to look after Fanning’s Pita Ramos, the daughter of a wealthy Mexico City couple after a series of kidnappings. He’s just taking a job, but it doesn’t take long for him to form a bond with her, and in just a short time, he becomes a father figure to her. (Which makes sense, since her real father is off being an industrialist and all.) You really see the two of them grow to care for each other, and it’s just delightful.

And that’s pretty much the whole wonderful movie UH OH.

As you can probably guess, shit goes down. Any plot synopsis with “bodyguard” in it lends itself to the downward going of shit. At this point in the movie, we get a radical tone shift as all hope is lost. It’s jarring, but effective, when juxtaposed with such a happy beginning. Creasy turns into a man without limits, and all we can do is watch him work.

Tony Scott adopted a recognizable style in his previous films; here, he tries something new. While we’ve gotten used to sweeping aerial shots and beeping onscreen text, he goes a bit more experimental in his editing, reminding me of his first film, The Hunger. His unique stylized presentation of English subtitles for all the Spanish dialogue takes on a life of its own, changing with the pace of the movie and eventually expanding its reach. It’s a very basic premise, much like Revenge, but the pacing and the payoff have improved since then.

Not pictured: Anthony Quinn just talking forever.

I’ll say this: the visual distinction of the film can feel a bit tiring towards the end, but it nevertheless adds a layer of freshness to the action, which comes in droves. Incredible performances and slick direction push a basic premise to new heights, and there are enough plot twists to keep you engaged, even if you might have to fight the urge to overthink them.

Many have said this is Scott’s best work, and I have to agree. I don’t know if it’s necessarily number one, but it’s easily in his top five. It feels like he’s taken all the best parts of his prior films and brought them together. It’s nice to watch a filmmaker grow…

DOMINO

Previous viewings: None.

…and then not give any fucks.

A visual representation of Domino.

Did you think that was an insult? Oh, no. Sometimes you want a prime cut of meat, and sometimes you just want a double bacon burger with chicken nuggets on it dunked in sweet and sour sauce, because goddammit, it’s Sunday and you don’t gotta be nowhere.

Domino is that movie.

What’s particularly interesting is that Tony Scott ported over the exact same style from Man on Fire, but doesn’t even pretend he’s trying to be artistic here. This is pure trash, and let’s face it, Tony is pretty good at that.

Last time I use this picture, promise.

So Domino Harvey is a bounty hunter who bounty hunts with other bounty hunters. She ends up on a reality show about bounty hunters and things get bountier and huntier. I guess? Honestly, things blow up, guns get cocked, Keira Knightley is stupid hot, there’s a sweet van, and Xzibit raps about motherfuckers.

Hey friend, word on the street is you enjoy my music, so I try to license it for use in films when I can.

By the way, this is a biopic. Yeah. The real Domino Harvey was on set for some of it, she makes an appearance in the credits, and sadly, she died of an overdose before the film was released. Now, granted, most biopics are utterly made up, and this one was made by filming hours of Domino telling her stories of bounty hunting, which may also have been made up, so who the hell knows? But what comes out the other side is completely insane.

Back-to-back with Man on Fire, this was an interesting shift in tone. I wouldn’t intentionally watch the two together for a movie night. Would I recommend Domino by itself? I dunno… are there McChickens in that bag?

CONCLUSION:

I think adaptability needs to be discussed at this point. Tony has made straightforward military movies of varying intensity, experimental crime dramas, action comedies, revenge tales, and whatever the hell Domino is. It seems like he was feeling things out, which sounds strange when movies cost, you know, millions of dollars. But filmmaking is an art and a business. Which is why I looked at the box office results for all of Tony Scott’s films. They’re all over the place. They certainly aren’t ordered by how much I enjoyed them. I couldn’t even begin to find a pattern. Now overlap those results with his Rotten Tomatoes rankings. Confused? Now imagine you’re Tony Scott and trying to keep all these factors in mind as you work on your next project.

Overall, I’m less impressed with his work into the 2000s, and I hope it’s not a downward trend, because ’91-’95 was such a great hot streak and I want to see it come back up.

NEXT TIME:
Déjà Vu
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Unstoppable

(Click here for Day 4.)