Tribute: James Gandolfini
Today we pay our respects to James Gandolfini, who passed away on the 19th June 2013 while vacationing in Italy. Gandolfini will always be associated with his highly acclaimed performance in the role of Tony Soprano in the series The Sopranos. Today we’ll be looking at a different role, the one we first took notice of him. As Tony Soprano he intimidated us, but as Virgil in True Romance he scared the ever living piss out of us.
When Alabama (Patricia Arquette) returns to her motel room to wait for her husband Clarence (Christian Slater) she finds the imposing Virgil waiting for her. Virgil is a mob enforcer who is there to reclaim the cocaine that Clarence had stolen earlier in the film. Although this character, played by Gandolfini, only appears in this one scene it’s the only moment in the movie where we fear for the character’s lives. It begins with him sitting casually in a chair, nursing a shotgun, and waiting for his target.
With Tarantino’s pen behind the dialogue, Tony Scott calling the shots and James Gandolfini crafting the character Virgil makes his mark in the ensemble cast with only a few minutes of screen time. He remains completely calm as he watches Alabama squirm under his questioning, and he doesn’t let anything she throws his way divert his attention from his goal. Before long comes the violence and, unlike the standard movie thug, he doesn’t seem to revel in it. It’s his job, and while he enjoys doing it and does it well at the end of his day it is his job. He doesn’t care about Alabama or whether or not she has the cocaine, his job is to smack her around until she gives it up.
What takes Virgil from being a terrifying thug to a somewhat intriguing one is when he starts waxing lyrical about killing people. It’s almost tragic that he clearly doesn’t have anyone else in his life to talk to about his life, so instead he discusses his feelings about causing death with his victims. Whilst Alabama lies bleeding on the floor he tells her about the difficulty of killing someone for the first time. It’s a strangely humane moment for a character who was introduced only moments before and spent his time with us sucker punching a helpless woman.
Just when he’s drawing us into his tale he then flippantly remarks “Now I kill them just to see their expression change.”
In his one scene James Gandolfini intimidates, fascinates and then terrifies us. He has shown us his ability over the cause of many roles, and stunned viewers as Tony Soprano. But if you want to see just what makes him such a stunning actor then watch this scene.
Rest in peace James Gandolfini.