I was more than a little shocked to learn of Tony Scott's death earlier today.
He apparently committed suicide yesterday. I for one could be more shocked or saddened. He was one of those great talents Hollywood has enjoyed in recent years that critics could just not figure out. For most critics, the only way to make a good movie is to either make it so completely slick that you could ride it in a water park missing its water, or so dramatically serious that only critics will ever care about it.
Tony Scott did not make movies for critics. He made them for mass audiences, and he was usually exactly on target. Some filmmakers working for mass audiences are more successful (Michael Bay), but they're also a lot harder to appreciate once you get past the big theatrical run. There's a reason why Tony was working on a sequel to Top Gun more than two decades later. That's a movie that still resonates. Maybe its plausibility gleefully hurdles through several leaps of logic, but that's one image Tom Cruise will never be able to sabotage, no matter how people can't swallow Scientology or his increasingly convoluted public association with Katie Holmes.
Like a lot of people, Ridley Scott was always my favorite out of the brothers, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Tony was brilliant in his own right. True Romance is one of the early Quentin Tarantino movies directed by another filmmaker, but it's still exactly Tony Scott. Tony was someone who understood the chaos of big egos and big events. It's a wonder he never produced the Academy Awards. He worked with Denzel Washington several times. Other than Spike Lee, it's hard to see another director who has better shaped Washington's career. My favorite collaboration between the two is Unstoppable, Tony's last film. It's about a runaway train that requires a fair bit of heroics, from Washington, Chris Pine, and even Rosario Dawson. In reality, it would only have taken one Tony Scott.
Why he ended up taking his own life is a matter for people who actually knew him. All I can speculate on is how tough it must have been to watch his brother get all the respect. Tony definitely deserved more, and he will receive more in the years to come, when fans new and old will have the benefit of examining a career in full. His were always efforts that I wanted to make time for, and now I have that much better a reason to do so.
I know I have some funny ideas about quality, but Tony Scott is a talent that successfully blurred the line between popular art (which can too easily be dismissed as brainless) and the stuff critics like (whatever that is). As long as it's done well, what's the difference? Rest easy knowing that not all of us have such a problem with that, Tony.