Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Kurt Russell, Rose McGowan, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Zoe Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms
The films made by Quentin Tarantino often favor female characters, because, A) he's a red-blooded American dude who loves the womanly form (particularly a lady's feet), and, B) he loves seeing women kick ass. Sometimes, along the way, those women catch multiple bruises and lumps, as in the Kill Bill movies, but, in the end, they emerge victorious. Death Proof, however, is a tougher film to evaluate in this way. Tarantino's half of the 2007 exploitation throwback double bill Grindhouse, Death Proof finds Kurt Russell playing a psychotic stunt driver who gets off on killing women with his souped-up car.
Naysayers have dubbed the film "misogynistic" mainly for its first half, which follows three hedonistic, fun-loving, carefree chicks (Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, and Sydney Tamia Poitier) who, unfortunately, befriend Russell's Stuntman Mike and meet grisly deaths hours later. And those who call Death Proof "feminist" focus more on the latter portion, where a bunch of professional, film-industry-working women (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, and Rosario Dawson) fare much better against Mike, taking him down, crushing his face in, and slapping each other high-five as the credits start to roll.
So who's right here? The second group, though it's understandable why people would come down so hard on Death Proof. Tarantino's not a misogynist—he's just not very good at cleanly translating his pro-women ideals, at least in this case. One interesting way to view Death Proof is by looking at the two sets of characters: the first would rather drink, give lap dances in bars, and get high than work, which is what the other girls do in lieu of partying. If anything, Death Proof is Tarantino's way of saying that bad girls get punished and good girls succeed. In that way, he's actually more comparable to a Catholic school nun—albeit one who grew up on provocative, cheaply made '70s genre movies—than a hateful pervert.