"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" Review
"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," (arguably) Tarantino's ninth film, is set in the greater Los Angeles area in the 1960s and features some beloved visuals and retro set-pieces from the era that demonstrate his love for mid-century Hollywood film locations and for film in general.
I should start off by explaining my personal affinity for Tarantino and the rocky relationship I have shared with his movies over the years. Since I was a young lad, I have been a fan of Quentin Tarantino, transfixed by his unconventional style of filmmaking. His films have been a leaven for my love of cinema since I first saw Pulp Fiction as a teenager. Something about his pitch-perfect, snappy dialogue; his masterfully shot displays of ultra-violent mayhem; and the rich, finely detailed scene-setting and locale construction that goes into his movies makes my heart scream with passion for cinema.
Noting all of that, as I have grown older, some of his films have lost their impact on me as the veil began to thin, and I became more conscious of the problematic elements that satiate his movies. Particularly in The Hateful Eight, I became somewhat disillusioned with Tarantino as a filmmaker because of the gratuitous racial epithets and slurs, and the harsh manifestations of violence against women. I never realized these sorts of things before his previous film, and I don't think saying "It's just a movie" is a get out of jail free card anymore.
That being said, I do think Tarantino frequently stamps his oeuvres with little nuggets of evolved thinking. In this movie, he succeeds in doing this particularly with the ending. It doesn't absolve some of the stuff he does with women in the movie, including certain leering camera shots of scantily dressed female characters. But he manages to create an ending that is sensitive and sympathetic to timely themes without forfeiting his trademark style that his fanbase has come to expect from him. No doubt that the ending will sew division among even his most loyal fans, but I thought it made for a cathartic experience for those who know about the infamous Manson family murders.
I know a lot of people were upset that Margot Robbie gets shortchanged as Sharon Tate, because she is not given a lot of lines. I hear and understand that, but I will also offer the retort that it is intentional. She is imbued with a sense of purity, innocence and sanctity to usher in portents of a bad end. She is a sugary sweet presence behind the film and persistently remains that way through image after image, scene after scene, to set up the ending. Certain isolated scenes with Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate are some of the most remarkable pieces of art ever imagined for a theater screen, including one in a theater itself. By the end, I started to see why Tarantino writes her the way he does, and it is all effectuated by this level of deep respect that he has for the people involved in this real-life tragedy, and over-writing her character could've disrespected her memory in my opinion.
Brad Pitt is in top form in this movie, and Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of a lifetime. I was continually impressed by the acting chops of both individuals, and neither can be overstated. But DiCaprio, in particular, shows so many dimensions to his character and plays his role so sublimely that I have to give him a little extra kudos. I also caught that he was a sort of meta-reference or cognate for Tarantino himself as the fading star reaching the end of his rope. Many of the minor characters in this film also surprised me with their acting work. Tarantino is sporting an all-star cast here, and there are plenty of notable performances even from the lower-tier characters: Austin Butler, Mike Moh and Julia Butters just to name a few.
For me personally, this film is a high water-mark on the career record of Tarantino. It includes some of that classic Tarantino flavor while also showing him as a restrained, methodical filmmaker who has grown over the years. Some people might have a problem with Tarantino's pacing, and if you are not already used to that from him, this film will not convert you. However, if you can accept the languid pace and appreciate the production value, you will have fun with this. I only felt the 3-hour run time in a couple places, but it quickly subsided. Some of the scenes in this are so compelling either having me on the edge of my seat or completely unable to avert my gaze from the screen. Tarantino even throws in a slow-burn "alone in a house" scenario analogous to something oft-viewed in the horror genre, and it is amazing.
Overall, this ranks up there alongside some of the jewels in his portfolio, but I encourage everyone to see this and make up your own mind.
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© 2019 Logan Daniel Williamson