Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Death Proof (2007)

Tarantino's contribution to throwback double-feature Grindhouse, Death Proof is pretty widely regarded as his weakest effort to date. But with a back catalogue that kicks off Reservoir Dogs, goes through Pulp Fiction and ends up with the recent smash that is his western "southern" Django Unchained, that's not necessarily a bad review. Tarantino can rest easy knowing that the spectre of "the kid" he so often talks about will be satisfied with Death Proof. "The kid" he talks of is his imaginary audience in the future, where a kid will find out about this director called Tarantino, and , he says, this kid has to be able to pick anything from the catalog and not be disappointed no matter which he picks. It sounds like a philosophy that everyone would follow, but when you hear that Tarantino plans on quitting directing sooner rather than later before he gets "old", and look at the control he maintains over every aspect of his productions, it's easily possible that he may have a perfect run.

Death Proof needs to be taken in context to be appreciated. Otherwise, it'll either leave you with a bad taste in your mouth or just straight up confused. Death Proof is part of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's joint project Grindhouse: an attempt to produce a nostalgic recreation of the experience of a double feature at a "grindhouse" movie theatre where the name of the game was pulpy, exploitation B movies. And an exploitation movie is what you get.

Seen on its own, Death Proof comes as an extended cut compared to the version from the double feature (the standalone version clocking in at 114 minutes, and the full Grindhouse spectacle, two films and gag trailers included, comes in at only 191). It's pretty clear where most of the extra content goes; the film's pretty explicitly in two parts. In terms of traditional plot/narrative, notions of which should probably have been left at the door, there's a 50 minute introduction followed by an hour and a bit of plot with protagonists and whatnot. You might feel a little robbed when the gears shift up from one to the other, but that'll be assuaged by the appearance of the much more interesting cast who attempt to turn the tables on Kurt Russell's psychopath killer and his "deathproof" murder vehicle.

Starring centre stage, once the film gets in gear at least, is Zoë Bell playing herself: a kiwi stuntwoman with a loose grasp on the difference between fun and danger. Admittedly, playing a version of yourself can't be too hard, but she is the bouncy hero that the story calls for, and plays off the rest of her cast (Tracey Thoms, Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead) extremely well.

Not exactly Oscar-bait, Death Proof is a lot of fun and delivers exactly what it sets out to and nothing more. Pulpy and trashy, the climax ends the film brilliantly. Traditional films would have another 10 minutes epiloguing the aftermath, but really you don't want or need it at all here.

Would be exploited again.

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