And so, the week begins with the tragic news that renowned British director and producer Tony Scott has taken his own life at the age of 68. Tributes from his friends and colleagues have poured in since the news broke, numerous and individually moving, painting a picture of the kind, modest man he was – a man who leaves a legacy of work which has been instrumental in changing the face of action cinema for the better over the course of the past three decades.
Tony Scott created an entire sub-strand of action thrillers all his own: stylistic, ambitious, propulsive rollercoasters, which are all identifiably Tony Scott films from the very first frame to the very last. His films’ primary aim was to provide the purest form of cinematic escapism; he once said “[his brother] Ridley makes films for posterity. Mine are more rock’n’roll.” Fuckin’ A, sir.
Here’s a selection of the finest scenes the great man ever put together. By no means an extensive list – he made very few bad movies – this is more of a showcase of the diversity he managed to exude while always staying true to his unique style of filmmaking. Without Tony doing his thing in it, Hollywood will be quite a lot shitter.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest scenes ever filmed, the extraordinary face-off between Dennis Hopper’s Clifford Worley and Christopher Walken’s psychotic Mafioso Vincenzo Coccotti is a masterclass in the knuckle-biting escalation of tension. Quentin Tarantino’s script flies off the page, and yet without Scott’s taut, oppressive direction the scene would have lost much of its power. For a man so famed for the deftness with which he constructs action sequences, Scott displayed an auteur’s sensibility here.
Tony’s follow up to True Romance marked the beginning of his fruitful relationship with Denzel Washington. It was a claustrophobic and precise thriller, boasting powerhouse sparring performances from Washington and his submarine captain and unhinged superior Gene Hackman, both at opposite ends of the moral spectrum, fighting over stakes which couldn’t feasibly be any higher.
This film was another hit for Tony and Denzel, and this scene demonstrates the director’s flair for brutal kinetics, combining his trademarked visual flourishes with a sense of urgency and purpose. Crucially, despite the camera trickery and numerous shooting angles, the audience is never left unsure as to what’s actually going on – the scene is chaotic yet structured, and it’s a technique which many of Scott’s shaky-cam contemporaries would do well to emulate.
The film that acted as the springboard for the careers of Scott and Tom Cruise, Top Gun was a massive hit when it landed in cinemas back in 1986. Scott judged the tone of the film perfectly – it wasn’t high-brow, it was hair metal – and he assembled a cast of memorable characters, a timeless smorgasbord of iconic sequences (volleyball, anyone?) and a handful of truly impressive, pre-CGI action set-pieces, none better than this exhilarating dogfight at the film’s climax.
This often-overlooked gem saw Bruce Willis apply his John McClane shtick to a film with a slightly harder edge, although Scott remembered to pepper the film with an infectious, black humour throughout. In this scene, Willis is allowed to display his particular brand of gruff bad-assery through the creative use of fatal violence. This is just one of many stand-out sequences in one of the director’s best films – one that appeared right in the middle of the remarkable run of form Scott enjoyed in the nineties.