True Lies (1994) – Exploring the Past

TL;DR – While some parts of this have aged as well as blue cheese in the sun, you can’t help but feel the pull and allure of a story swinging for the fences at every opportunity. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene

Disclosure – I paid for the Disney+ service that viewed this film

True Lies Review

When getting ready for my 2022 best of lists, I discovered that I had revied 99 films this year. Which made me wonder, what could be the lucky number 100? Just as I pondered that, True Lies finally made its way onto streaming. I have not seen this in years, but while I loved it when I was younger, the years are rarely kind to films like this. But given the year that James Cameron has had with Avatar, it was all the better time to jump back to one of his classics.  

So to set the scene, an exclusive party is taking part on a snowy cold night at Lake Chapeau, Switzerland, at a heavily guarded chalet. But not all the guests are coming in the front door. Some are cutting through the gates to the lake under the ice. Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) works for a secret US counterterrorism unit called Omega Sector and is investigating the billionaire art dealer Jamal Khaled (Marshall Manesh) as a possible front for laundering money to Islamic Terrorists. But no one outside of the agency and his team, Albert “Gib” Gibson (Tom Arnold) and Faisil (Grant Heslov), not even Harry’s wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku), knows what he does. One tango later, Harry must make a less-than-quiet exit from the party. But while his work and home life are separate entities, they are about to come crashing together.   

The Tango
There is always time for a Tango. Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Right from the start, this is an action/spy film with all the sensual dancing, gadgets, one-liners, and daring escapes that come with it. For example, many action scenes have been set in bathrooms, with the recent Mission: Impossible being a solid example. However, boy, this one still holds up even after all these years. It all works with the slow kick down of doors, the poor civilian caught in the crossfire, exploding porcelain, and the incorporation of the environment into the fight. The fact that Harry ends the fight on a horse in an elevator, yelling sorry to everyone caught in his wake, is just the icing on the cake.    

Coming into this film, I was expecting the Islamic representation to have aged as well as a blue cheese left in the sun, and I was not wrong. What I missed last time, or maybe was just not mature enough to understand, was just how bad the set-up is once Harry thinks Helen is cheating on him. His anger and torment of his wife, whom we, as an audience, know have not done anything wrong, escalates beyond all reason. In his jealousy, he tasks the entire apparatus of the US government against her and given how we have seen police do this to women escaping abuse that is then played for laughs, it is a bit creepy, to say the least. There are clear hints of satire here, but not enough to make this part work.

Jamie Lee Curtis in a black dress.
It is hard to say just how iconic this scene has become. Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

But then, all that said, I also can’t help but say that Helen’s transformation into Doris was and might still be one of the most sensual moments in cinema, where everyone still keeps their clothes on. It is an odd dichotomy that I can’t rectify. But it also the energy the film uses to launch into its final act action set piece. The setting of this film is one of those factors that ultimately dates it to a time and place in that it could not be set anytime other than the early 1990s. People understood Islamic Terrorism but in a way that could be used in a comedy, something that would be impossible in a couple of years. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and missing nuclear weapons was a real fear they could tap into. True Lies also exists in this weird period when James Bond was on hiatus, and it was not sure if it would return and if it did, could it capture its former glory. There were a lot of attempts to capture that vibe, and this was the best option out of America.

Like most action films from the time, it lives or dies with its final action set piece. Yes, the villains are evil, almost so comically bad they could be in RRR. Indeed, when you think about it, Juno Skinner’s (Tia Carrere) motivation in this film makes no sense. The explosions are big and full of flames, the jets are screeching through the air, the synth score is blaring, the model work is outstanding, and everyone gets a moment to shine. I mean, there is not a single scene where Jamie Lee Curtis is not giving here most at every moment. Did it need the coda at the end? No, did I still like it? Absolutely. Also, a tip to filmmakers out there, use more harriers in your films.

A man dives away from a large explosion.
I am always here for bigger explosions. Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

In the end, do we recommend True Lies? To be clear about a few things, it is very much a product of its time, with all the strengths and weaknesses that come with it. Indeed, there are parts of this film that have aged very badly. But when it sings, it soars. I mean, I have had Por una Cabeza, the tango, stuck in my head all day. If you liked True Lies, I would recommend to you Top Gun: Maverick.  

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you watched True Lies?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us
Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day. 


Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of True Lies
Directed by
– James Cameron
Screenplay by – James Cameron
Based onLa Totale! by Claude Zidi, Simon Michaël & Didier Kaminka
Music by – Brad Fiedel
Cinematography by – Russell Carpenter
Edited by – Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt & Richard A. Harris
Production/Distribution Companies – Lightstorm Entertainment, Universal Pictures & 20th Century Fox
Starring
– Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Art Malik, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Eliza Dushku, Grant Heslov, Charlton Heston, Marshall Manesh, James Allen & Ofer Samra
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 16; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R

 

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