With the possible exception of the "zombie versus shark" scene in Lucio Fulci's Zombi (coming soon), there may be no greater scene in film history than the exchange between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper at the midpoint of True Romance. Hyperbole aside, it's the kind of scene that true cinephiles salivate over the prospect of, and no doubt that actors dream of performing: two great personalities locked into a magical rhythm, creating character and making history even as they seemingly talk about a whole lot of nothin'.
The first time I saw True Romance was during its theatrical run, when I invited two female friends unfamiliar with Quentin Tarantino to see the film with me. While they were shellshocked by the abundance of profanity and violence the film contained, I was endlessly captivated – perversely so – with Tarantino's indefatigable penchant for crafting clever, memorable dialogue that celebrated itself as much as the films and pop culture highlights to which it referred. But even having been a longtime devotee of Reservoir Dogs – which to this critic remains his best-ever work – I was unprepared for this scene between Walken and Hopper, two acting masters, as they slowly and subtly engaged in a power struggle that would necessarily – if satisfyingly – end in cathartic tragedy.
Ironically, the sequence is only tangentially connected to the main narrative, a love story between a comic book store clerk and a call girl who accidentally stumble across a small fortune in drugs. Walken plays Vincent Coccotti, a mob boss who stumbles across Clifford Worley (Hopper) while looking for the former cop's son. Coccotti initially exerts physical pressure on Worley to reveal the wherabouts of his son, but as Worley realizes that he's in a no-win situation whatever he tells Coccotti, he decides to tell the Mafioso a story that will provoke his adversary without necessarily having to compromise his dignity, much less his son's location.