Review: Tequila Sunrise

Directed by: Robert Towne
Written by: Robert Towne
Starring: Mel Gibson, Kurt Russell, Michelle Pfeiffer, Raul Julia, J.T. Walsh
Released: 1988 / Genre: Crime Thriller / Country: USA / IMDB
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Like the unfortunate physics classes of my teen years, I sat in front of Robert Towne’s Tequila Sunrise and wondered if I was the only one who hadn’t a clue what was going on. Mel Gibson has a conversation about something, then Kurt Russell says something about Gibson. Then Michelle Pfeiffer has sex with Russell, but falls in love with Gibson who she then has sex with (or does she fall in love with him after they have sex), and then there’s some more conversations. By the time the credits roll you just want to ring Robert Evans and congratulate him for saving Chinatown.

tequila sunrise, film review, kurt russell, mel gibson, michelle pfeiffer, robert towne

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Some will argue I never gave this film a chance to impress. The sun-kissed photography, shiny stars (Gibson, Russell, and Pfeiffer), post-Chinatown noir, intricate plot, and sex for good measure, all have the makings of something rather delightful. However, there’s very little delight in watching a pretentious director overplay a screenplay which he clearly holds far too dear. Of course, the only scripts Towne would parade as gallantly as this would be his own, so it comes as little surprise that Tequila Sunrise is written and directed by Towne himself. But for a director the key is in knowing exactly how to nurture a script in its transition from page to screen. You have to be able to take liberties, to sacrifice some the script’s greatest attributes. Towne has no such self-control and his film seriously lacks a sense of narrative thrust.

Kurt Russell and Mel Gibson are both excellent, providing the film with personality and heart but they cannot positively influence an overly complicated plot and mishmash of character fore-stories and back-stories. Michelle Pfeiffer is beautiful and alluring in the femme-fatale role but the sub-plot of loyalties and love simply detracts from could have been a better developed relationship between Russell’s cop and Gibson’s dealer.

If there’s any saving grace for Tequila Sunrise it’s that it only lasts two-hours, but as it ended, and I realised I’d broken the remote from distracted-messing, I knew it had felt a lot longer than that.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews here

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    Tequila Sunrise is scripted and directed by Robert Towne of Chinatown fame and this might be his best work. The three main characters in this are so layered and so inter connected that it’s hard to root for one and not the other. I could literally go on and on for paragraphs at how much I loved the script. Even the smaller characters like Escalante and Maguire are beautifully done. This is one of many films of the 80’s so unfairly overlooked come Oscar time. You should really check it out if you haven’t seen it.

    Nice job Dan

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