Death Proof Reviews
All in all, a fun, though lesser work.
Jumping on in, I was expecting an unconventional slasher flick. "Oh jeez, one of those...", I thought. From the prolonged focus on plotless chitchat, the strange premise, and Tarantino's homage to the "outdated" genre of grindhouse films, I could definitely see the hate towards "Death Proof". That expectation was quickly smashed. Tarantino's direction and writing skill is so unequivocally impressive, "Death Proof" is a mark of how films should be done -- in other words, he's done a masterful job.
This is, in no way, a B-movie slasher flick that is trying to slap in cheap admiration to grindhouse films; it's surprisingly a verbose but intensely clever film that's oozes movie magic that seemingly everyone in Hollywood is trying to emulate but failing at. There IS a quirky narrative; there ARE grindhouse camera mechanics and "sloppy" editing. However, Tarantino has done such an extraordinary job that I'm compelled to not categorize "Death Proof" as a mere B-movie, rash, entertainment blockbuster; it is a glorified, stylish homage to the style of grindhouse that acts as a standalone film that exceeds on all forefronts. Plus, it's got some of the greatest stunt work to date.
Is this Tarantino's black sheep? No... HELL no. This is further testament as to why Quentin Tarantino is one of the greatest directors and writers of our era. Yeah, I may have enjoyed other movies by Quentin, but doesn't mean that "Death Proof" is a bad movie. "Death Proof" is a wildly good time that exhibits an ambiance of a traditional, flabbergasting cinematic experience that exudes movie magic.
It also sets out to pastiche the "grindhouse" cinema phenomena, with the original idea of two films being shown as a double feature at drive-in movie theatres from state to state, with both films often being re-cut and re-edited, not by the filmmakers, but by the theatre owners themselves. This is evident in the amusing switch in title; with the film opening with the caption 'Quentin Tarantino's Thunderbolt', before awkwardly cutting to an obviously out of place title card with 'Death Proof' crudely emblazoned across the screen. This is also the explanation for the purposeful mistakes in continuity, the sloppy editing and the switch between colour and black and white, as well as the fašade of severely deteriorating film stock. It's not sloppy film-making, but rather, a purposeful appropriation of sloppy film-making geared towards appealing to the kind of obsessive movie aficionado who gets the references and can appreciate the joke that Tarantino is attempting to pull.
With this in mind, it seems hard to understand what people are complaining about. Do audiences actual expect this film to keep them enthralled and entertained when the vast majority of them would balk at experiencing many of the low-budget, semi-obscure films that influenced it? Hardly! The accusation here that "nothing happens" is fascicle. The fact that there is film running through the camera is proof enough that something is happening, with the hilariously bland dialog deconstructing the film in much the same way as the purposely amateurish composition, editing and sound all intended to fracture the cinematic language in the same way that Godard did; by reminding the audience that this is the film and the point of the film is to experience the sights and sounds that unfold before us. Added to this the colourful iconography, the music, the characters, the girls in tight t-shirts, the for once entirely justified performance from the man himself, all reminding us that this is a joyous, darkly comic romp in which the point is not "why?" but "why not?".
The effect is reminiscent of Kill Bill (2003), which at times felt superficial or perhaps even too knowing for its own good, but still demonstrated to us the filmmaker's great use of tone, texture, colour and movement, as well as turning many people on to a whole new world of cult Japanese cinema; from the works of highly individual filmmakers like Seijun Suzuki, Kinji Fukasaku and Takashi Miike, to cult performers like Sony Chiba. Death Proof attempts to do something similar with the likes of the American revisionist road movie, the B-cinema of Roger Corman and the femsploitation subgenre of films like The Big Bird Cage (1972), Caged Heat (1975), I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and Ms. 45 (1981); a coolly ironic series of films in which wronged women take bloody revenge in an often elaborate and over the top style, chiefly intended to give a feminist slant to the still rampant degradation and misogyny prevalent in the exploitation genre.
Other reference points are more obvious as they're mentioned explicitly in the film; notably car chase cinema such as Vanishing Point (1971), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974), Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) and even Spielberg's Duel (1971). Some have complained that the film fails on account of its lack of action and emphasis on dialog and technique, but this seems churlish when you think of the films being referenced; with Vanishing Point featuring a number of cryptic, desert-set sequences in which characters talk and talk and talk, while Two-Lane Blacktop punctuates its scenes of hard driving and drag-racing with much in the way of meandering small-talk. Then we have the fact that films like Reservoir Dogs - which takes place almost entirely within a single setting - and Jackie Brown - which places emphasis entirely on character - use dialog to not only create the characters but to also tell the story.
Regardless of this, Death Proof is meant as a piece of entertainment. There's no real desire here for Tarantino to prove what kind of filmmaker he is because he's already done that with the number of great films that came before. Sure, it can be seen as self-indulgent, but surely those of us familiar with the style of film-making being referenced here will revel in this particular kind of extravagance, loving everything from the continually inane female banter to the awesome scenes of high speed carnage. If you're not a fan cult cinema or exploitation cinema or indeed a devotee of Tarantino's work then this film really isn't going to impress you. There's no shame in that. Some films are made for a niche audience, destined to be a cult in their own right. However, for those who get it, Death Proof has the potential to be a truly exhilarating, one-off piece of film-making.
And yes, last note to the director Quentin Tarantino. You've a talent. Go make a porn movie. I'm sure you'll shine on that sector. Thank you for wasting my time.