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Commentary: Tony Scott’s consistent action films will be missed

Courtesy of MCT

Tony Scott rarely comes up when discussing the most successful filmmakers of the past 30 years, but when one actually takes the time to reflect on his work, it’s likely most directors yearn for the career he has strung together.

That only made it all the more jarring when Scott took his own life Sunday, throwing himself from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in the Los Angeles Harbor. He was and will always be a divisive figure among critics, but his career was still going as well as ever. Even at 68 years old he still was not at all past his prime. One could argue that his last film, the 2010 runaway-train thriller “Unstoppable” was one of his most impressive achievements.

Scott broke into the film industry in 1986 with “Top Gun,” a movie that many continue to adore. He then spent the next 26 years making such hits as “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Days of Thunder,” “The Last Boy Scout,” “True Romance,” “Man on Fire,” “The Taking of Pelham 123” and the aforementioned “Unstoppable.”

While not all of those films are creatively balanced, they are still unmistakably Tony Scott creations. He utilized a gritty, propulsive visual style that almost certainly influenced lesser directors such as Michael Bay. Scott was one of the founding fathers of the modern Blockbuster, for better or worse. He did not invent it, but movies such as “Top Gun” certainly shaped what it became.

While his energetic style was almost certainly an asset, occasionally it can be too much.

“Unstoppable” is a ridiculously fun movie, but few would argue it succeeds on a human level. It puts Chris Pine and Denzel Washington in a train car, railing them right into the action. Love interests and other characters are introduced, but they are never interesting human beings. This is because Scott never cared. He hits the gas with the first scene and never lays off until it’s over. While this made the movie as good as it was, it likely kept it from ever being high art. Not that it needed to be.

Scott also had some stakes in television. He produced the crime drama “Numb3rs,” which aired from 2005 to 2010 on CBS, and his TV drama “The Good Wife,” which premiered in 2009 on CBS, is slated to enter its fourth season in September. He is also the younger brother of successful filmmaker Ridley Scott, with whom he started the production company Scott Free Productions in 1995.

The two Scott brothers worked together often, yet Ridley Scott has always been – and likely will always be – the one people think of first. His films such as “Alien” and “Blade Runner” have always seen more respect from critics and scholars. It is, however, entirely possible that Tony Scott actually had the better career at the box office. Ridley Scott has gone long stretches without making much commercial noise, but Tony Scott’s films have usually resonated with the public more consistently.

When news broke of Tony Scott’s death Sunday, It seemed to come out of nowhere. Flaws and all, Tony Scott was one of the most important and successful filmmakers working today, and his loss leaves a gaping hole right at the center of the cinematic landscape.

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