Death Proof

Certificate: 18
Running time: 114 mins
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito
Genre: Action, Thriller
Country: USA

Like Four Rooms we’re going to overlook Tarantino’s segment behind the camera in Sin City and move straight on to his new cinematic feature offering.  It was billed as an experiment in Exploitation cinema; two films back to back in the spirit of 42nd street appropriately named Grindhouse.  U.S box office takings called time on the experiment before it could cross the waters to the rest of the world and the films were given their own individual release thus negating the point of the exercise in the first place – who’d be a studio exec huh?!  20 Years on the QT Vol. VI revs up and delivers Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse; the petrol-head inspired Death Proof.

Stuntman Mike’s got himself a “death proof” car which he drives around picking up ladies before driving them at top speed and ultimately killing them in a beautiful rolling mess of metal and limb.

The lessons of Jackie Brown dictates that this should be a powerhouse of a movie.  Granted director Tarantino is serving writer Tarantino and his vision but he’s working to a remit; a visual style and a set of requirements that need to be adhered to in order to create an Exploitation film; the type of which used to be screened on 42nd street and at small theatres across the United States.  It has a lot of the components that make up an Exploitation film.  The visual style of the film is an accomplished replica of the genre; director Tarantino (like Rodriguez with Planet Terror and Jason Eisener with Hobo with a Shotgun) has gone all out with shoddy editing and damaged print quality to help create the feel of a quality genre piece.  When true Exploitation films played 42nd street they looked as close to immaculate as you’re going to get but after thirty states and a handful of dirty floors and second rate projectionists it would look like the inside of the toilet the morning after a bender with Oliver Reed.  It pleases me no end that Tarantino has been able to replicate this and in a way that is less showy than in his counterpart's film.

The dialogue is better too; he can write conversation and the conversational style of writing in Death Proof is amongst some of his best (at least to begin with) but it seems that at some point during the writing and the making of the film they’ve forgotten that they were meant to be making a film.  It’s a dip in momentum that you fear will never be able to be overcome but hang in there; the fun is coming and it’s encased in a clear crash cage.

Kurt Russell’s portrayal of Stuntman Mike is an interesting one; Russell has a sexual predator quality to his performance that has been missing from the man since his youth and it’s good to see back; the guy’s a beast and a fine form of a beast with more than a touch of the psychopath about him.  Sydney Poitier (Jungle Julia) is reminiscent of Marlene Clark and is a strong female lead for the gang of girls; they’re slightly reminiscent of the crew running the streets in Jack Hill’s The Switchblade Sisters.  One thing that’s still a mystery is how Vanessa Ferlito isn’t bigger than she is now.  Ferlito’s performance is great; she has the most expressive face and the moves to own a lead role and it must only be a matter of time before it comes to her…and I can’t wait for that day.  The real star of the film is, of course, the car.  Like Vanishing Point before it (which Tarantino makes sure to reference) Death Proof is a muscle car movie and the film is never better than when Russell is behind the wheel and causing untold havoc on the roads of Austin Texas and it’s all going well until the film jumps forward fourteen months.

It’s at the point that the film loses the stylistic it has worked so hard to construct and begins to feel a lot more polished and modern.  Gone are the awkward jump cuts; gone are the light flares and problematic sound editing and it takes on a whole new set of cinematic rules that completely undermine all the excellent work that’s come before it.  It’s incredibly frustrating and can only really be seen as Tarantino trying to be too smart when all he needed to do was shoot the mission statement.  How hard is it to shoot the god-damn mission statement?!  I like the first half of Death Proof it has a visual style, writing and mise-en-scene that’s powerful, confident and most importantly deserving of being an Exploitation film.  For some reason this excellent start is abandoned in favour of the exact opposite of everything that came before it thus derailing a perfectly good film and losing the audience right when it had set it up wonderfully to drive it home.

It seems that Tarantino hadn't given much thought to Rodriguez when offerring up Death Proof as his half of the Grindhouse double bill as his film is little more than two very different short films.  The tail end is too glossy, too self referential, strives to be too clever (even though it’s not) and has none of the aged character of Exploitation cinema not to mention so many references to Vanishing Point that you can't help but wonder "why am I watching this bollocks when I could be watching Vanishing Point?!".  Very disappointing!







(It's worth pointing out the two stars belong to the first half of the film and it would have been a lot more by the end had it not turned into that boring piece of shit)



18/30 Stars or 60%

Grade: C










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