Movie Review
Death Proof
Death Proof poster
By Scott Sycamore     Published June 30, 2007
US Release: July 21, 2007

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Kurt Russell , Rosario Dawson , Mary Elizabeth Winstead

R
Running Time: 90 minutes
B
This movie has [Tarantino's] classic bizarre mix of disgust, comedy, shock, pleasure, et al, as well as the paradox of detachment and emotional investment running simultaneously.
So let's get you Americans up to "speed" on the whole Grindhouse/Death Proof saga as it has unfolded. The full 3+-hour Grindhouse debuted in the U.S. on Easter weekend to stunningly poor box-office and a general lack of comprehension by mass audiences. Many who saw the film (including our humble web-lord Lee) decried Tarantino's segment as his worst moviemaking effort to date. So producer Harvey Weinstein decided to take a left turn for the international market by taking Quentin's film, allowing the director to add in several minutes of extra footage and releasing it as a stand-alone. Only the words "Un Film de Grindhouse" on the French posters signify it as being part of a larger package.

Death Proof: The Uncut European Version debuted at Cannes in May to what I assume was a positive reaction, and now they have unleashed it upon the European public, hoping that the cult/cineaste/film-snob mentality will propel the flick to the status it deserves on the world stage. They are definitely banking on QT's name recognition and worldwide fan-base, and trying to prove to the world at large that he made a movie that does in fact not suck. It was released here in Paris (where I have been living for the past six months) several weeks ago, and I finally got a chance to go check it out. I was excited, especially not having seen Grindhouse, for this chance to peep a new Quentin joint. I mean come on that's cool right? And I'm happy to report that I was not disappointed. Death Proof, as I saw it, was a hoot.

Now I understand that this film, coming at the end of a long schlockfest like the full Grindhouse, could be seen as overly talky, not paced well enough, and lacking in real content. But this Euro version has nothing before or after to get in its way, although I must say I would have loved some of those fake trailers to get me sizzling before the proceedings. There's also the added footage, which I have no doubt brings a little bit extra to the overall experience; especially since I believe a lot of it isn't of the dialogue-heavy variety. Basically this film has two really long sequences of groups of chicks talking in the car, then continuing the gabfest into a bar or restaurant. These scenes are shadowed and punctuated by the lurking presence of Stuntman Mike, a psycho greaser who plays it cool until the time is right to strike on his hapless female victims.

There isn't as much of a "story moving forward" sense here as in QTs previous work. Many people might be left scratching their heads and saying "Why was I supposed to care about the characters," etc, but I think that if one views it from the angle that QT is coming from, it's easier to enjoy and appreciate. The stated mission of the whole Grindhouse endeavor was to take this kind of trashy, plot-less, "no-value-having" cinema and show audiences how it can be entertaining and inspiring even to some of the world's top filmmakers. To me, Quentin is saying that these types of movies need love too, even if they are the bastard children of the cinematic underworld.

Some might say that if this wasn't "a Tarantino film" it would be discarded as just another piece-of-crap B-movie. But I think that's where QT's nostalgic cinematic heftiness makes its point: the fact that he made it "assures" that many people will see it, and therefore they can be challenged in their notions of what constitutes a good movie. In the Quentin hothead movie-geek universe, all films start on a level playing field regardless of their budget, actors, or plot description. The man is making nothing less than an argument for equality.

And speaking of a universe, it's quite clear now that QT has constructed his own. Death Proof clearly takes place in the same reality as Kill Bill, proved by the appearance of the father-son Sheriff team (a scene that had me surprisingly giddy). There are numerous references to the other works in the QT canon, suggesting that all his filmed stories (with the exception of Jackie Brown, which QT said takes place in the Elmore Leonard universe) can possibly exist in the same exact world and timeline. This is quite a unique feat, looking back over all his films to date. A friend told me recently that he read a book which stated that, when Quentin and Roger Avary were starting out as screenwriters, it almost seemed like they were penning "one" master script that played itself out over a number of screenplays. Something like Death Proof proves that this is probably true. Each flick now seems like a piece of this grand-mega grindhouse B-movie extravaganza, and its becoming quite a thrill to see it all expand.

As for the whole "movies like this are throwaway trash" theory, I'm not buying it on this one. It is precisely QTs talent that he can take material like this and elevate it beyond all rational standards. There's even deeply-buried social commentary in there for anyone who cares to analyze beyond a surface level. A horribly gruesome car-crash scene seems like exploitation at first (and it is), but when the movie was over I felt myself strangely affected by it, caring about the young girls who lost their lives, especially the Vanessa Ferlito character, who's really just a good-natured chick caught up in a shady drama. I linked episodes like this to real-life situations where innocent young women are picked off by schizoid freaks every day, and the cruelty of the world pounds people with no remorse until it is finally cornered like a wild beast and pummeled into submission by Rosario Dawson & Co. (if indeed that even happens outside of fantasy).

It's just so wild that this flick actually got to me at an emotional level, and that's why I applaud the shit out of Quentin's valiant stride. This movie has his classic bizarre mix of disgust, comedy, shock, pleasure, et al, as well as the paradox of detachment and emotional investment running simultaneously. A man who knows how to juxtapose and effortlessly mix genres all in a single moment stands tall in my book.
Scott's Grade: B
Scott's Overall Grading: 417 graded movies
A15.1%
B59.2%
C24.5%
D1.2%
F0.0%
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