The younger brother of Ridley, Tony Scott was one of the most successful action directors in Hollywood, consistently producing top-quality entertainment over a thirty year career which included Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State and True Romance.
Before he gained his trademark red baseball cap and cigar, Tony Scott’s (b.1944) early life largely followed the same trajectory as his older sibling, studying at the Royal College of Art as well as starring in Ridley’s early film Boy and Bicycle (1965) before making his own short, One of the Missing, in 1969.
Upon graduating, Tony was given a job making adverts for his brother’s company, Ridley Scott Associates, where he forged a successful fifteen year career until earning the directorship of the erotic horror film The Hunger (1983), starring Susan Sarandon and David Bowie. Although Scott’s visuals were praised, it was not a success. However, his next film would storm the box office while becoming one of the most successful recruitment ads for the US Navy in history…
Top Gun (1986) was the product of the High Concept filmmaking style pushed by the producing partnership of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. As with their later protégé, Michael Bay, Scott’s background in advertising made him the perfect candidate to give their film a stylish, commercial appeal, coupling the movie’s release with tie-in soundtrack, music videos, fashion and the all-American hero portrayed by rising star Tom Cruise.
While his brother’s career momentarily stagnated, Tony went from strength to strength (and with the personal extravagance that brought) with commercial hits like Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Days of Thunder (1990) and the Shane Black-scripted, Bruce Willis-vehicle The Last Boy Scout (1991). However, critics were complaining that Scott was all style over substance, and in the words of his future scriptwriter, he was regarded as ‘a commercial hack.’
That writer was Quentin Tarantino. And the script was True Romance.
In the early 1990s Tarantino was a huge fan of Scott’s work and passed on a number of his scripts to the director. Scott was first enticed by Reservoir Dogs, but was informed Tarantino had begun directing the film himself, so Scott selected True Romance (1993), applied his own visual style and an all-star cast, and created a cult classic. However, reviews at the time were not all positive, and much of the praise it received was credited to man-of-the-moment Tarantino, but so many of the film’s memorable scenes – such as Clarence and Alabama’s rooftop declaration of love – were Scott’s visual creations.
Nevertheless, the film saw Scott begin to reign in some of his excesses in favour of character and promoting exceptional performances from his cast, as seen in his two Gene Hackman collaborations, Crimson Tide (1995) and Enemy of the State (1998). In the 2000s, he experimented with an ever more frenetic filming and editing style, as well as toying with colour and contrast; taken to its extreme in Domino (2005), simulating the eponymous character’s acid-inflected view. While exhuming critical complaints of style over substance, his later filmmaking pushed visual boundaries and captured a furious energy if not box office records.
Scott nonetheless found a winning formula in combining a legendary, established actor with a younger star, whether Duvall/Cruise in Days of Thunder, Hackman/Washington in Crimson Tide, Hackman/Smith in Enemy of the State, Redford/Pitt in Spy Game (2001), and Washington/Pine in Unstoppable (2010). He has regularly been regarded as an actor’s director, bringing out the best in his stars. This is evident in the number of performers who returned to him on multiple occasions, including Hackman, James Gandolfini, Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and, most notably, Denzel Washington, with whom Scott made five films.
In 2010, Tony and Ridley – who also produced a huge array of films and television series through their company, Scott Free – received a long-overdue BAFTA for Worldwide Contribution to Filmed Entertainment. Despite numerous projects in pre-production, including an LA-set remake of cult film The Warriors (1979), a sequel to Top Gun, and a western epic he described as “Lawrence of Arabia meets The Wild Bunch”, Tony Scott sadly took his own life on August 19th 2012 by leaping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles. The reason has never been established.
As the news broke, tweets and touching messages flooded the internet, but none more apt as that from Tom Cruise:
“He was a creative visionary whose mark on film is immeasurable.”
One of the greatest action directors of all time, Tony Scott always ensured characterisation, performance and a solid script lay at the heart of his thrill rides. His visual energy, invention, stylish aesthetic and contribution to cinema survive him, and his work will entertain and inspire future generations of filmmakers.
Top 5 Tony Scott Films:
Top Gun (1986): A hotshot pilot must prove himself against the best of the best. One of the most memorable films of the 1980s, the film flits between the macho-heterosexual and the homoerotic in an endlessly entertaining flight. The scenes of aerial combat still astound.
True Romance (1993): A young couple go on the run after stealing drugs money. Tarantino’s stripped-back script is given an incredible visual finesse that reveals Scott’s ability to supplement character with mise-en-scene.
Crimson Tide (1995): A submarine Captain and his Executive Officer turn against each other when a nuclear holocaust looms. Scott creates incredible tension that promotes exceptional performances from Hackman and Washington.
Enemy of the State (1998): A young lawyer is embroiled in a government conspiracy in a scarily prescient edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Man on Fire (2004): A bodyguard assigned to protect a young girl goes on a rampage when she is kidnapped. Scott brilliantly builds up tension and character before unleashing a brutal action spectacle.
Do you feel the need, the need for speed? What would your top five Tony Scott films be? Let us know below…