Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Zoe Bell.
Plot: Stuntman Mike (Russell) is a deranged stuntman who uses his car as a weapon to butcher young girls. However, some girls are harder to kill than others.
Death Proof is one of the most divisive of Tarantino’s movies. While most critics argue over the racism in Pulp Fiction or the mindless violence of Kill Bill, most people argue whether Death Proof is even any good. It has been accused of showcasing a dip in quality for one of the most original film-makers out there and that is a strong thing to start spreading around the critic’s club. I will agree that this is probably the weakest of the Tarantino movies out there, but I don’t think I would go as far as to call this a bad movie. In fact, in places, it is bloody brilliant in a way only a Tarantino could be. There is something very relaxing about Death Proof, as if it is a lighter and more fun movie than Tarantino usually makes, without the overlapping themes or tone of Django Unchained or Inglorious Basterds. Death Proof is all about Tarantino having fun.
The first hour of the film almost feels like the director is taking you by the hand and going through a walk through pop culture. We get movie references, some terrific music and the main characters are always reeling off pieces of trivia, which will almost definitely become important pub ammo for the evening. It is also fun picking out the Tarantino trademarks: the female bare feet, the old-timey opening credits, a pretty decent musical montage to add to the collection. This is exactly what we want from a Tarantino movie. In that aspect, Death Proof hits the nail on the head really well. I love how Death Proof makes us really content to just sit down and spend time with the characters. The first set of women are so fun to spend time with, just bantering and setting up the scene, that we can happily just watch them chew up Tarantino’s cleverly crafted dialogue and inch forward with the plot. However, Tarantino has a narrative up his sleeve and when he kick it in with the first bloody murder, the whimsical B-Movie trademarks are cast away harshly. No longer are we revelling in pleasant pop culture nostalgia, but thrown into a cat and mouse game with a deadly serial killer. It is gruesome, but wonderful to watch.
As much as I love the false start to the movie (no spoilers, but one scene comes out of nowhere and totally makes this movie in one bloody moment), it does mean that the second half is put onto the back foot. It is hard to summon up the effort to begin caring for a new set of characters. Also, I know that Tarantino likes to stretch his dialogue-heavy scenes on as long as possible, but it begins to drag here. The girls discussing the difference between an Australian and a New Zealander doesn’t have the same weight as John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson discussing foot massages. It feels like someone is being influenced by Tarantino, rather than Tarantino himself. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character ends up going nowhere, even though she is the best actress out of all of the women here. Kurt Russell is almost completely removed from the picture and while I am sure Tarantino has his reasons for doing that, it hurts the overall effect. The middle definitely drags and this is the key aspect that makes Death Proof his weakest motion picture yet.
And then the finale comes and saves it. Tarantino was very particular about how he was going to film his car chase. There would be no CGI, everything you see would be painfully real. This worried me, as the low-budget style of his grindhouse picture might mean that we are treated to a continuous shot of two cars chasing each other, occasionally bumping sides. But what follows is terrifically exciting. While it would help if we hadn’t gotten so fed up with the ladies in trouble beforehand, we still feel every drip of tension that Tarantino squeezes from the moment. It is a testament to his film-making prowess that he can do whatever he wants with a film, knowing that the climax will be enough to please his fans. There is something very amusing about the abrupt ending too. I left this movie forgetting my cynicism and deciding that Death Proof gets a tick in the approved column from me.
Final Verdict: Not the best Tarantino by a long shot, but it still remains a worthy addition to any fan’s DVD collection.