Domino (Scott, 2005)

Relentless, eye-gouging mise-en-scene. Paints the entire world as a flickering lightbulb, consistently unpredictable and always threatening to extinguish. Climactic gunfight far more coherent and effective than I remember. Narrative is purposefully ludicrous, constructed to hide the economic concerns/motivations of fringe characters and subplots, the real heroes of this film. Still, a part of me hates DOMINO because Scott relishes his own stylistic show-boating over character and theme.

Deja Vu (Scott, 2006)

The only Tony Scott film I can think of that successfully melds his shotgun bang aesthetics with potent, carefully observed human themes (guilt, remorse, revenge, longing, loneliness… the beat goes on). Watching the opening credit sequence, in which a ferry load of soldiers and their families are decimated by a titanic bomb blast, I couldn’t help but see Scott as a humanist, not as a showman. It’s strange to write this about such a director normally obsessed with surface visuals, but all the proof you need is in Denzel’s facial expressions, his brilliant mix of shock, sadness, and professional resolve. This might be one of the strangest and most beguiling Hollywood films ever, an example of hop-skip-and-a jump cinema that actually has something to say about the contradictions of fate.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Scott, 2009)


The excruciating and infuriating Domino appears to be the apex of Tony Scott’s cinema of inanity, a striking critique against the director’s mind-numbing visual style and love for fast-pasted, fractured editing. Deja Vu finds Scott in a sort of toned-down visual purgatory, a place of maddening compression yet intriguing potential, where the hypnotic colors of New Orleans and the time-structured plot offer some semblance of purpose within the cinematic space. Sure, Scott still jams the frame with snazzy visual tricks and audio cues, but at least he’s attempting to construct a coherent narrative arc in the process. There’s tension rooted in the drama and it merges with Scott’s frantic image, at times providing an engaging window into the director’s vision of a modern disjointed world.

If Deja Vu offered some hope Scott was trying to use his style to compliment story and character, his remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 dispenses that momentum quickly, leading the viewer into an anticlimactic cat and mouse game streamlined by his aforementioned auteurist tendencies. During the frenzied opening credit sequence, Scott swirls around NYC combining fast motion, slow motion, and endless variations in between as if his camera is being flushed down the preverbal toilet. This satellite inspired omniscient eye does nothing to advance the film in any way, except to nail home the fact that this is a Tony Scott film. As the tatted high-jacker (John Travolta) and  MTA dispatcher (Denzel Washington) battle out their way with words, Scott occasionally warps back into this visual framework, juggling the interiors of the train, tunnel, and even the command center of the MTA as if they were cavernous labyrinths of cinematic possibility. But as usual, it’s all for show, no substance, no mentality, no point. These characters exist primarily for Scott to manipulate the frame in the same tired way he’s be doing for going on a decade, and finding any entertainment, let alone subtext in this mashed world of hyper-kinetic movement is getting harder and harder.

Deja Vu (Scott, 2006)

After the incoherent and brash stylistics of Domino, Tony Scott returns with Deja Vu, a flashy (but not too much) riff on the time-travel movie – one that turns out to be slyly written and exciting, surprisingly favoring character over visuals. Denzel Washington plays ATF agent Doug Carlin, whose investigation of a massive ferry bombing leads him to a government task force (led by now chubby Val Kilmer) able to technologically look into the past for clues in solving the crime. Carlin, like the viewer, has trouble buying into the fancy smoke and mirrors, but Scott gives enough of the science in layman’s terms so it sounds convincing within the story being told. Even if it’s narrative logic falls to the wayside by the end, Deja Vu sustains an immediacy based on the size of the terrorist attack (over 500 killed, mainly U.S. servicemen) and Carlin’s need to stop it from happening. Throw in a young woman caught up in the time travel theatrics and Scott has himself a morphing, ever changing love triangle between Carlin’s duty to solving the case, catching the bad guy, and saving the girl. Deja Vu is not meant to be a serious study of worm holes, ethics in time travel, nor post 9/11 surveillance techniques (although it has a subtle underlining motif with invasion of privacy). Scott’s latest likes to jumble all of these themes up into a ball of “what ifs” and “what the hells”, finally folding back on itself with a humorous, wink to the audience. All these ideas, however simply presented, add up to much more than the insulting, trashy, and derivative stylings of Domino. Welcome back to the future Tony.

The Last Boy Scout (Scott, 1991)

Tony Scott has never been a great director, but his films make money and for some reason people respond to his visceral and incoherent thrills. Scott’s films always feel incomplete, even when he makes a somewhat comprehensive action picture. This Bruce Willis vehicle isn’t awful (Shane Black’s scripts has hilarious moments), but it stinks of laziness, especially in the dull action sequences. With it’s hyper-kinetic visual antics set to high volume, The Last Boy Scout is just a precursor to Scott’s later travesty entitled Domino. It’s funny brother Ridley isn’t much better at masking the petty Hollywood cliches trumped up as something grander, even when he’s considered the artist of the two. To me, both Scott brothers peddle to the lowest common denominator, no matter what the surface looks like.