TOM SIZEMORE HAS BEEN having a rough time of it… for about half his life. Known for tough-guy roles in the likes of True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Heat and Saving Private Ryan, it turns out that for most of that ’90s heyday and all the time since, he was a functioning — and not-so-functioning — addict: to sex, to heroin, and latterly and most damagingly, to crystal meth. His mind-boggling memoir (the title reworks a Private Ryan line) reveals not so much that he went off the rails, but that he was never really on them.
It’s a strange book, in that it’s a quick, slight, chatty read, but its events are momentous (at least for Sizemore) and its primary narrative covers a long, hard road out of hell.
As autobiography it goes back further: to Sizemore’s childhood in Detroit and Michigan; his extended family of dealers, alcoholics and addicts (though his parents were always clean); his early contraction of the acting bug after a viewing of Taxi Driver and discovery of “the alienation and beauty of actors like Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and James Dean”; and his student years in New York.
The bulk of the story, though, is his sex-and-drugs odyssey — and make no mistake, in Sizemore’s mind the two things are indivisible. Clearly a legendary cocksman from an early age, his conquests include Elizabeth Hurley and “the biggest star in the world in 1989”: one of the few names he doesn’t actually drop. “Conquests” is the wrong word though, since Sizemore never sounds as if he’s bragging. His tale is more about the incredulity of hindsight. Perhaps due to his shattering last few years and fragile new sobriety, even when talking about his tempestuous relationship with Hollywood madame Heidi Fleiss and its aftermath, his voice on the page just sounds comfortably numb.
He also elicits our sympathy, despite never whining or indulging in cloying AA evangelism. Clearly an addictive personality, he started out fanatically determined to be the greatest actor of his generation, and poured the same effort into his drug use. Even at his bleakest — in 2000 he made $2 million for Red Planet alone, but was homeless and penniless by the end of 2005 — there’s a bone-dry, self-deprecating humour to some of his stories, and a trace of pride to be detected in his description of a peer group that “wasn’t about fame… it was a group of people who liked to party and could handle their shit…” Until they couldn’t.
Reviewed by Owen Williams