Quentin Tarantino’s contribution to Grindhouse is a dialogue driven film with quick and violent action scenes chopping up the talking. Death Proof is better than Planet Terror, and that’s probably because of the way that Tarantino pays homage to many B-movies. His use of long single shots and real stunt sequences display classic elements from the foundations of modern action films, and the performances are all strong enough to carry the weighty dialogue through long scenes of nothing but conversation.
Kurt Russell stars as Stuntman Mike, an ex-Hollywood stuntman who throughout the film individually stalks two different groups of women and uses his “death-proof” stunt car as a murder weapon. The first group of women, played by Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, and Sydney Tamiia Poitier, are friends who stop at a bar somewhere in Austin, Texas. The bar scene is long and very well written, ending in Stuntman Mike giving a fourth girl (Rose McGowan) a lift home. He then proceeds to murder all four women, but the scene is over in a matter of seconds as his car takes care of business for him.
The second group of women are braver, played by Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thomas, and Zoe Bell, they’re all stuntwomen from a movie set in Lebanon, Tennessee. Fourteen months after the first women were killed, Mike closes in on this trio. However, these girls fight back. The resultant climax is a long highway chase filmed with tenacity and vigor.
Tarantino displays his ability not only to write killer dialogue, but also to film car chases that rival classic films. His use of long camera shots and real situations for the stuntmen/women make the movie feel more real, and the characters take on a deeper dimension than the one-sided characters of Robert Rodriquez’s Planet Terror, in which I’d imagine an awful lot took place in front of a green screen. With Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino keeps things relatively simple, and it works to a large extent.
While Death Proof is far from the genius of Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds, its still a well told story with performances that hold the plot together, without being too cheesy or flat. The actors and actresses stray away from the over-the-top acting of the B-movies this film pays homage to, but they still fall short of great, and few of the characters are as memorable as those from other Tarantino films. While a good film in its own right, Death Proof is simply not up to par with the other work from such a gifted writer/director.