FILM: Tarantino’s terror tale of two halves

Written By: Tribune web editor
Published: October 1, 2007 Last modified: October 1, 2007

Death Proof
US 2007
Starring: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson
Director: Quentin Tarantino

Born and Bred
Argentina/Chile/France 2006
Starring: Guillermo Pfening, Martina Gusman
Director: Pablo Trapero

DEATH Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s fifth film in 15 years, started life as the second feature of the double-bill experience Grindhouse (with the first part, Planet Terror, written and directed by Robert Rodriguez). When it opened in America in April, it was a resounding box-office flop. Tarantino puts this down to audiences “not getting” the idea of the movie, which paid homage to 1970s exploitation cinema, but the problem lay in the conception.

First, it was an attempt to recreate the drive-in experience complete with jump cuts and fake poor quality celluloid, but without a toilet break. Then there is the quality of the film itself. I have not yet seen Planet Terror but the first half of Death Proof is boredom incarnate.

At his worst, Tarantino is repetitive and self-indulgent, and the first 45 minutes of Death Proof bears this out. In a conventional exploitation movie (which would contain gratuitous nudity and more violence than is shown here), the premise would be established in five minutes. This is that Tarantino’s sexual deviant protagonist, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, second choice after Sylvester Stallone passed), likes to crash his car into other vehicles driven by women, preferably with another woman in the back seat. Tarantino takes an age to establish this, by which time the audience has lost interest. It also features yet another demonstration of Tarantino’s limited acting ability (he plays a creepy barman and is simply creepy) and tedious discussions about foot massages which were passé after Pulp Fiction.

The good news is that in the second half, which also features Mike stalking a trio of women (here played by Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Zoe Bell), the film revs into gear. This is essentially a reversal of the first half, in which the women, notably Dawson and Bell (the latter an Australian stunt woman playing herself) fight back. In sharp contrast to the opening, there are no jump cuts or crap direction, Tarantino having abandoned the idea of making a 90-minute low fidelity movie. Instead, the drama is witty, beautifully paced and tense. This is mainly because Bell just wants to test drive a car of the exact make and model as seen in the 1970s’ classic Vanishing Point, and lie spread-eagled on top of it while Dawson drives. It is at this point that Mike strikes and you really feel the danger Bell is in. The situation is played out in a satisfying manner and, aside from the silly final scene, this is a thrilling a ride as you are likely to experience. Shame about the first half.

The stylised pan down a set of carefully mounted family photographs in the opening credits suggests that Born and Bred (Nacido y criado) is going to be something other than a study of grief. Co-writer-director Pablo Trapero sets up a tale of a conventional middle-class malaise in the opening 10 minutes.

Santi (Guillermo Pfening) lives a comfortable existence with his wife Milli (Martina Gusman) and young daughter, Josefina in Buenos Aires, furnishing a hotel under renovation. Taking a few days off, the family sets off for the countryside. However, when he is distracted by an over-tired Josefina wanting to sit in the front seat, Santi crashes the car. When we next see him, he is out hunting with a co-worker, Robert (Federico Esquerro), living off the hides that they sell to a local barman and the work they have at a tiny airstrip. Santi says little about his past but believes his wife is dead and her ghost is haunting him. (Although she is a ghost he is prepared to shoot at.)

Robert has his own problems: he has made a woman pregnant and does not want to be a father. Santi’s other colleague, Cacique, has a sick wife who is proving to be a burden that he seeks to avoid. Matters come to a head after a drunken trip to a nearby town.

The story has such an obvious place to go (Santi facing his demons after several nights screaming, vomiting and using Robert’s phone to call his mother-in-law) that the journey is rather tedious. Indeed, at one point, after a series of cancelled flights when the men complain that they aren’t paid to fix the airfield, you wonder why they don’t just get on with it. Whether you enjoy this film is dependent on how much you can watch taciturn macho men grapple with self-expression. There were a fair few chuckles from women at the screening I attended, suggesting they get more out of it than male viewers.

Patrick Mulcahy

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