Tequila Sunrise is one of the lesser loved Robert Towne scripts turned films. While Towne’s Chinatown screenplay is hailed as a masterpiece of writing and conventional narrative structure, Tequila Sunrise is a companion piece of sorts. It also seems to have been inspired by noir elements of hard-boiled 1940’s private dick pictures, and also that era’s romantic dramas featuring a love triangle with larger than life characters. Towne’s affection for Casablanca is also noteworthy and the resemblance between the two films is undeniable.
In a sleepy California beach town, childhood friends Dale “Mac” McKussic (Mel Gibson) and Nick Frescia (Kurt Russell) find themselves as grown men on opposite sides of the law. Mac is a former drug dealer, who’s gone clean after his young son was born, while Nick is a suavely dressed high-ranking detective trying to take down a Mexican drug lord named Carlos (Raul Julia). Soon Nick’s loyalties are tested when both he and Mac begin to fall for a sexy restaurateur, Jo Ann Vallenari (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Conrad Hall’s stunning Oscar nominated cinematography bathes the film in sumptuous lighting and beautifully shadowed sequences. The appropriate mix of romance and drama is achieved through Hall’s work behind the lens and Towne’s work with his impressive cast. All three leads hit the right note in their individual portrayals of these flawed people. The plotting gets bogged down late in the second act, which lessens the film’s over-all impact from a story viewpoint. But the film is well acted, great-looking, and a nice attempt at modernizing retro elements that died soon after WWII.
Director: Robert Towne
Stars: Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell