While details are still coming in, it appears that 68-year-old director Tony Scott killed himself last night, August 19, 2012, by jumping off a bridge in San Pedro, California. I hope he was comfortable with his choice, and that it gave him the resolution he sought.
I never liked Scott as a director. His trademark super-saturated color palette, intentionally sloppy camera work and nausea-inducing cuts always struck me as terribly film school. He never really evolved beyond the style he found success with in movies like Days of Thunder in the 80s. But I can’t deny his much-imitated contribution to the action genre, even if it laid the foundation for an entire generation of movies that cater to the lowest common attention span. His films were consistently exciting and he always got the most out of whatever big name celeb happened to be headlining. Over the last few years, it was Denzel Washington who served as Scott’s muse, the actor’s declining physique an unintentional reminder of Scott’s aging artistic sensibilities. Yet for all their gratuitous hyperkineticism and sappy sentimentality, movies like Man on Fire and Unstoppable remain adrenaline-soaked guilty pleasures.
While big brother Ridley will forever been seen as the more artistic and successful of the Scott brothers, one thing I always marveled at was how much of an impact Tony’s style had on Ridley’s as the latter moved into the pop phase of his career. All you have to do is look at stuff like G.I. Jane and Blackhawk Down (and, yes, even the Best Picture-winning Gladiator) to see how much Ridley looked to his younger sibling to stay relevant to younger audiences.
For my money, Tony Scott’s finest effort was the gritty Kevin Costner starrer, Revenge. It was a flawed enterprise with a disjointed storyline and some head scratching moments (Was he seriously suggesting a character died of shame? Is that a thing?), but it was ambitious in ways his mainstream thrillers never approached. Tony Scott never won Oscars. His legacy can be reduced to a litany of movies people really enjoyed. He wasn’t afraid to be trite or trashy to put asses in the seats, and in that regard he was an unqualified success. In that spirit, I think it’s fitting to eulogize the man with something from his biggest early hit, a scene that, for better or worse, will live forever: