Tarantino and Winterbottom: Old directors surprising results

  • 5 October 2007
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Cult director Tarantino fails to deliver in his new movie, Death Proof, but Michael Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart pleases where he had previously disappointed. By Gavin Burke


It's becoming increasingly obvious that Quentin Tarantino is making movies that only himself and his mates would watch. Death Proof, following on from the self-indulgent Kill Bills, calls for a redefining of Tarantino-esque. Originally this would have been a compliment: it meant your film was hip, violent, boasted snappy, pop-culture referencing dialogue and a cracking '70s soundtrack; now it means you're self-indulgent and prone to feverish masturbatory flights of fancy. Conceived as a two-for-one spectacle with Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror called Grindhouse, Death Proof has since extended its running time and is now released as a stand-alone feature.

The film is split into two parts: Psycho stuntman Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) gets his kicks by crashing into sexy girls in his death proof stunt car, which he does very well when he comes up against Rose McGowan et al in a seedy bar run by the seedy Warren The Bartender (Tarantino), but when he comes up against some tough stuntwomen, they don't just lie down and take it.

Apart from one seriously impressive car crash and Russell's performance, there's nothing here to get excited about. The usual Tarantino-isms are in evidence but the once loved long-winded talkie scenes about nothing in particular are flat, dull and boring in Death Proof. There can be an assumption that there are thousands of nods and winks to movies no one has seen, or even heard of, and if this is a parody, homage or both to those movies, it's a pointless exercise if no one gets the joke.

Michael Winterbottom might have been accused of self-indulgence with his previous excursions (A Cock And Story, 9 Songs) but he seems to have righted that with A Mighty Heart. 

Based on a true story and adapted from Mariane Pearl's book, A Mighty Heart is centred on the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Islamic jihads in Pakistan, 2002. His wife, the pregnant Mariane (Jolie), struggles to keep her head as the FBI (William Patton) and Pakistani police (Ifran Khan) scramble to find her husband before the kidnappers' deadline expires.
Winterbottom has obviously taken a great deal of interest in Paul Greengrass' United 93 and Bloody Sunday as he moves the camera relentlessly, giving the proceedings a documentary makeover; the director had to do something to keep the interest high and momentum going since the outcome is no secret.

This realistic approach needs actors at the top of their game as the dramatic ‘Hollywood' scenes are usually stripped back, and the cast delivers. An almost unrecognisable Angelina Jolie (her lips give her away) plays Mariane with what is without doubt her most impressive performance of her career – play a real life tragic figure and you're a shoe-in come Oscar night – but still allows room for her support to shine. Character actor veteran William Patton weighs in with a restrained performance while Khan almost steals the show as the tough-talking Pakistani police captain.

Death Proof *
A Mighty Heart ****