True Lies | movie review
A great action movie... for its time.
Movie summary: A fearless, globe-trotting, terrorist-battling secret agent has his life turned upside down when he discovers his wife might be having an affair with a used-car salesman while terrorists smuggle nuclear warheads into the United States. (IMDb)
I think I have a more positive recollection of True Lies thanks to first seeing it as a thirteen year old when it first came out, rather than being as aware of some its more problematic issues as I am as an adult - although with the two Avatar films released so far essentially co-opting Native American and Maori cultures for entertainment purposes, I'm not sure James Cameron has evolved the same was as a person.
One of the biggest strengths of True Lies is its near-perfect blend of action and humour that many blockbusters struggle to manage today. The film knows exactly when to ratchet up the tension with amazing set pieces and chases that never go on too long, but also knows when to slow down a bit and inject a well-timed joke or one-liner to break the tension - the result is a movie that is entertaining from start to finish.
To add to that is the incredible cast, with Arnold Schwarzenegger perfectly cast as the tough and capable Harry Tasker, and he brings both his physical prowess and his trademark humour to the role - Arnie really does have seriously underappreciated comedic timing. Schwarzenegger is a true action movie icon, and his presence in the film adds a level of star power and charisma that few other actors could match, and certainly not today.
Jamie Lee Curtis is also outstanding in the film, which is pretty much what you expect from her. Her character, Helen, starts off as a bored housewife, blissfully unaware of Harry's true occupation, but she quickly becomes a key player in the action and proves herself to be a capable foil to her husband. Curtis brings both a contrasting style of humour and a lot of warmth to the role, and she and Arnie have great chemistry together.
Personally though. Tom Arnold is the standout in the film. He provides a large portion of the film's comic relief as Harry's colleague for the mysterious agency they work for, and his banter with Arnie is consistently hilarious. It does feel a little weird to see Arnold in an action movie, but his performance adds a lightness to the movie that helps to balance out the intense action scenes.
A last mention for the late, great Bill Paxton, who is unforgettable as Simon, a sleazy used car salesman who gets in over his head thanks to his entanglement with Curtis' Helen. Paxton brings a heavy does of nervous energy to his role, and his scenes are some of the film's funniest and most memorable. His over-the-top performance is the perfect counterpoint to the more relatively subdued performances of the other actors.
To sum up, it's the cast of True Lies that really elevates the movie to a truly exceptional level. Arnie, Curtis, Tom Arnold, and Paxton all deliver outstanding performances, with their fantastic chemistry and contrasting talents making the movie a joy to watch, and their performances are one of the primary reasons why the film has become so well loved for what could've proven to be a generic action-comedy.
Of course, it's hugely important to acknowledge that True Lies is not a perfect film by any means. While it was liked well enough when released in 1994, there are elements of the movie that I imagine would be condemned if it were made today - specifically, the film's portrayal of Arabs has been criticised as Islamophobic and relies on stereotypical depictions of Arabic terrorists. Although the lack of any real backlash against the Avatar movies unfortunately makes it more likely it would be glossed over.
The movie's depiction of Arab villains is problematic, and it's important to acknowledge that this type of subpar (to say the least!) representation perpetuates very harmful stereotypes that can have real-world consequences. However, it's also important to note that, like myself, the film is now old enough that many younger people who saw it on release weren't really aware of those issues at the time and have a soft spot for a movie that they may have a different opinion of if released today.
True Lies is a thrilling and hilarious movie that is highly entertaining for the majority of the time. While it's not without serious problems with the representation of Arabic terrorists, the movie's combination of action and humour is still perfectly-pitched and that initial impression of seeing it at such a young age means I can't ever see myself disliking it for its issues even though I am conscious of how shitty that is.