Originally released in the US as one half of an exploitation double feature with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror under the name Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof was released in the UK as a single feature. The film is a pastiche of the sort of cheap, exploitative thrillers that found their way into certain cinemas before the advent of home video in the 1980s. Tarantino purposely damaged the film stock causing rips, jumps and scratches to make it look more like the kind of 1970s film that he was recreating. The film also makes great use of cars and music from the era to further recreate the 1970s feel.
Death Proof is neatly split into two halves with both revolving around a deranged movie stuntman called Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Mike appears to take joy in stalking small groups of women, following them in his ‘Death Proof’ stunt car before crashing into them. We see this take place twice but with very different results. In the first instance Mike gets to know his potential victims in a bar in Austin, Texas first whereas in the second half his appearance is more of a surprise and fuels a revenge filled final few minutes. I thought Death Proof was ok and with any Tarantino release there is a lot to like but for me there are vast swathes of dull, un-Tarantino like dialogue and it sits towards the bottom of his filmography in terms of how much I liked it and how likely I am to watch it again.
There is a long section in the second half which I found really boring and when compared to the opening half and ending was a let down. I found that I wasn’t really interested in the characters and that the dialogue was dull and uninspiring. I also put my lack of enjoyment of this section down to a Kurt Russell deficiency. I enjoyed every moment that he was on screen but he is notably absent from my least favourite part of the film. The opening half, especially the part in the bar was much more enjoyable. Even though I’d already seen Russell’s character following the three girls (Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd & Sydney Tamiia Poitier) he became very charming and his piercing eyes and smooth talking made me think that maybe he wasn’t so bad, despite my knowledge of the film beforehand and the signs from the opening scenes. Credit is due to Tarantino’s script and Russell’s performance for making me doubt his true intentions. Following a gruesome and heart racing conclusion to that story we find Stuntman Mike in Tennessee where he has his eyes on some more women (Roseario Dawson, Tracie Thomas, Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Zoe Bell).
Towards the beginning I really enjoyed the faux aging of the film and all the little scratches and jumps. It worked really well for about five minutes until I saw a Ford Focus parked outside one of the character’s windows. It was such an odd thing to see that it took me out of the film and I began looking for more modern things. The look of the film and the car just felt really odd and it made me wish that Tarantino had actually set the film in the 70s. Part way through the film the screen turns black and white for a few minutes and then changes again to a more recognisably modern feel. Overall I think all three variations worked well. The early scratchy filming doesn’t always work but sometimes looks fantastic. There are occasional call backs to Tarantino’s earlier work which gave me a big smile. Though most famous for its appearance in Pulp Fiction, Big Kahuna Burger has now been mentioned in four of Tarantino’s films including this one and one character uses Kill Bill’s theme for their ringtone. I like that Tarantino is self referential and appears to set all of his films in the same world in a similar way to Pixar.
Tarantino’s Direction is superb and the stunt scenes in and around the cars are a particular highlight. Without CGI and tens of cameras he manages to capture thrilling and scary scenes which look and sound great. I also really liked the Bar Scene. The soundtrack is typically fantastic. I didn’t recognise many of the songs but like most of Tarantino’s films I now want to track them all down. Music isn’t just used to accompany the visuals but feels like a realistic part of the world that he has created. Some of the acting is pretty bad but I think and hope that this was a conscious decision given the exploitation nature of the film. ‘The Girls’ are mostly shoddy but I did enjoy the performances of Zoe Bell (a debut actress, famous as a stunt woman) and Sydney Tamiia Poitier (daughter of Sydney). The standout though is the film’s central character Stuntman Mike as played by Kurt Russell. I was hugely engaged whenever he was on screen and was transfixed by his charming but threatening persona. He was fantastic.
Overall I enjoyed large parts of Death Proof but was left a little bored by long periods of dialogue which failed to match the highs of Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Basterds. The Direction, Cinematography and Soundtrack were all excellent and the ending was great but I’d put it at the bottom of Tarantino’s seven pre Django features. Even though it is my least favourite, my least favourite Tarantino beats a lot of other Director’s work.