Forgotten Crime Romance Thriller Launched Two of the Best Actors Ever

By Shanna Mathews-Mendez | Updated

True Romance

Samuel L. Jackson and James Gandolfini are household names today, even with Gandolfini having passed more than ten years ago now. But when the film True Romance was released in 1993, they were up-and-coming actors whose careers could have gone either way. Fortunately for us, this movie may have been part of what made them both so big. 

True Romance Stars

True Romance

I was a young teenager when True Romance hit my television screen. I had had a crush on Christian Slater since his appearance alongside Helen Slater (no relation) in The Legend of Billy Jean.

So, I was excited to see anything he was in. Only a few people really knew Quentin Tarantino at the time. Reservoir Dogs had just come out in 1992, and Pulp Fiction wouldn’t hit theaters until 1994, which put his name in everyone’s mouth. 

Accidentally In A Major Crime Ring

Tarantino wrote the True Romance screenplay about a lonely man, Clarence Worley, who works in a comic book store and finds himself at the center of a major crime ring entirely accidentally.

The great thing about True Romance is that Clarence (Slater) handles each situation like everyone imagines they might. He’s cool under pressure, and he aims to do the best he can with what he’s got. 

Samuel L. Jackson Appears In True Romance

Samuel L. Jackson plays a tiny role in the opening sequence of True Romance. He’s one of a few drug dealers making a deal with Gary Oldman’s character, a pimp named Drexl.

While Jackson only has a few minutes on screen before being blown away by dread-headed, gold-toothed Drexl, to watch the movie now you can’t help but exclaim, “Hey! That’s Samuel Jackson!”

From this point in the film, the action and the romance take off in equal parts. Alabama, one of Drexl’s prostitutes, played by a spectacular Patricia Arquette, is hired by Clarence’s boss to “accidentally” bump into him in a movie theater on Clarence’s birthday and give him the night of his life. 

James Gandolfini Also Appears

The thing is, the two fall madly in love with each other, and Alabama confesses that she’s a prostitute.

Well, Clarence, being the stand-up guy that he is, marries Alabama and heads to Drexl’s to get Alabama’s things. Chaos ensues and Clarence ends up leaving with a suitcase full of drugs instead of clothes. 

Here’s where Gandolfini comes in. As Clarence and Alabama take off to try to sell the drugs in Los Angeles (because where else would you sell a suitcase full of drugs?), the mafia behind those drugs pursues the couple. Gandolfini is Virgil, one of the hitmen charged with the chase.

Others Are Brilliant In True Romance

It must be said that Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken both provide their own brilliant roles in True Romance — Hopper as Clarence’s dad and Walken as a top mafia guy looking for Clarence. There’s an impeccably acted and directed scene in which the two interact as opposing forces, and you really can’t decide who you love more. 

There’s also a great turnout by Michael Rappaport as Clarence’s kind of hapless buddy in L.A., by Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn as the cops trying to catch the mafia guys, Brad Pitt as the world’s best stoner roommate, and even Val Kilmer as the voice inside Clarence’s head.

Look, I love True Romance. I love everything about it. I will give it 10 stars out of 5, and Rotten Tomatoes agrees with me. I’ve watched True Romance dozens of times in the last thirty years, but there is one scene in particular that stands out as unforgettable and inherently watchable. 

Watching True Romance

True Romance


It is the scene between James Gandolfini and Patricia Arquette in a motel room. He’s there to find the drugs, and she’s seemingly defenseless without Clarence present to defend her.

The next several minutes between these two amazing actors put them both on the map, and it has to be this “fight scene” that made Gandolfini a candidate for the role of Tony Soprano 6 years later. 

It’s also a scene that makes it clear what a great director Tony Scott is. It took everyone involved to make this cinema magic. 

In case you haven’t seen True Romance, I won’t spoil it for you. I will just tell you to go watch it right now. You can rent it for around $4 on Amazon, Apple TV, or YouTube. 

I’m gonna go pop in my special edition DVD now.