Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan
Nothing feels quite as good as giving someone the pain they deserve for the negative things they do to others. This sweet revenge can bring so much satisfaction, which gets delivered in the rambunctious and unapologetic, Death Proof. A simply satisfying exploitation film utilizing its grittiness to its desired effect.
Driving around in a killing machine, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) enjoys utilizing his vehicle to kill impressionable women. His track record holds several skeletons but he runs into some issues when he attempts to wrong a group of women willing to fight back.
As part of the overall Grindhouse double feature, Death Proof comes to us with some rampant vengeance on its mind from Quentin Tarantino. It begins as a film showing the evils of Stuntman Mike and completely flips the story on its head to turn him into the one being hunted. If you’re looking for any nuance in the story, then you’ve come to the wrong place because this story gets as straightforward as anything can get, which comes with the territory. Exploitation films thrive in showing gratuitous violence and sex, and Death Proof provides one of these in spades.
The idea of this killing car comes into play with how Stuntman Mike decided to kill his victims. You can tell Kurt Russell had plenty of fun in this role as he portrays a completely unhinged man. Even if he does not have full control of his mental capacities, he lands some funny lines. One of them appears when he preps for his first kill. We see on-screen where he says exactly which part of the vehicle has earned the title of Death Proof. You can guess it’s not wherever the victim is seated. These moments play into the entire tone of the film. Nothing can be taken seriously in this film because nobody in the story does either. It simply serves as some gratuitous fun with a story connecting the dots to end in a satisfying manner.
With one of the characters being a stuntman, this film provides some wild stunts for us to enjoy. The greatest one of them being the game “Ship’s Mast” where Zoë Bell hangs on a car’s hood clutching seatbelts while the driver accelerates to a high speed. A genuinely terrifying game I have no idea why anyone would try it, but this sequence introduces these fierce women to the serial killer we’ve been following from the very beginning. This car chase with Zoë hanging on for dear life looks terrific without the context of knowing the entire scene was made practically. It adds another layer of excitement because the scene looks harrowingly dangerous and it’s pulled off so well.
Characterization for all of the players in this story gets kept at the minimum because they simply serve the overall story rather than themselves. With this line of thinking they become expendable. Even for the women who refuse to be the next set of victims for Stuntman Mike, they come together as friends, but they’re willing to expend each other for the gain of an individual. One scene, in particular, stands out where the girls leave Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) behind as essentially collateral for them to test drive a car. They even give a wink to the owner of the car stating Lee works as a pornstar making the insinuation of what he can receive for allowing them to test drive a car just for fun. Incredibly off-putting but it becomes the trend with these characters and why they make their decisions. Similarly, Stuntman Mike does not receive this deep and intensive look as to why he finds glee in killing women. Something useful for any other type of movie except this one, which has absolutely no time for any nuance as mentioned before.
Quentin Tarantino has never been afraid to jump into some genre fare doing things he finds enjoyable irrespective of how others feel. Making one part of the double feature of Grindhouse allowed him to have some fun in this sandbox of an exploitative story. As someone who has loved film for ages, he has seen plenty of exploitative films and he wears his influences on his sleeve. Death Proof sticks out in his filmography, not because of the genre, but also in the filmmaking style. While I would not say Tarantino has the most depth in his stories overall, this one certainly feels much more throwaway and forgettable. Everything revolves around the massive stunts occurring with no other real depth. His filmmaking acumen certainly still shines throughout, but this certainly should be considered his weakest feature.
Adrenaline-pumping and easily digestible, Death Proof brings us to a world of massive cars and people willing to do what it takes to survive. It creates a dashing but heinous villain in Stuntman Mike and a set of protagonists with the power to fight back with their own skills. An enjoyable feature, which gets the job done in telling this exploitative story.