I saw Once Upon A Time In Hollywood recently and have let it sink in. In short, I didn’t like it. It’s not as bad as Hateful 8 which for my money is his worst, but the chances of me seeing this again are slim.
It’s a bit like another film from the summer I can’t recommend, Midsommar.
Like Midsommar Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is way too long. It also involves cults and a Cliff dishing out some good ol’ ultraviolence.
I’ll tell you what I liked before moving onto what I didn’t like.
There are going to be spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Let me tell you what I liked about Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.
The performances: These were good. Leo goes from being rage-fuelled to pathetic at the drop of a hat. The constant contrasts of his performance made me laugh a lot through the film. Brad Pitt does a beautiful job playing stoic Cliff Booth. There’s ambiguity about his wife’s death. This gives him some grit because otherwise, he’s a stand-up guy. Cliff uses appropriate violence and turns down a hippy girls offer of oral.
The period detail was excellent. I wasn’t alive then, and I don’t really know too much about the era, but it looked good. There’s something about the aesthetic of that era.
How Sharon Tate was handled. Not the events but how they treated her throughout. Margot Robbie isn’t a character. More a spirit of the age. She’s like the girl in the white car from American Grafitti. Sharon Tate was handled tastefully.
I laughed quite a bit.
The not so good.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is long. I’m trying to work out if I enjoyed this more or less than the Kill Bill films. The Kill Bill films are over four hours altogether, but stuff happens in Kill Bill. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a film where nothing happens. There is a half-hour section where Leo is playing a bad guy in a TV show. There’s no tension. There doesn’t seem to be any deeper meaning going on. Nothing changes by the end of the section. The whole film feels like this. When a part ends you feel like you’ve been entertained, but you’re left wondering what was the point.
Brad Pitt’s character gets more of a story and only just. He drives Leo around, he fixes an antenna, picks up a hitchhiker, feeds his dog. He also visits an old movie ranch where the Manson family are squatting. It’s probably the best scene in the film, but it doesn’t go anywhere.
There might be a story in here, but it’s not 2 hours 45 minutes worth. There are flashbacks within flashbacks within cutaways. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is Tarantino’s most structurally sloppy film to date.
Nothing pays off.
Well, there is one thing that pays off.
Spoilers for the last section of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
The film jumps ahead six months. Leo has been to Italy to make several films. He’s not a fan of how Spaghetti Westerns are made, but he perseveres.
In Italy, he is a big deal. Leo gets married also and returns to the States with a new lease of life.
You know what would have been interesting?
If they’d shown us any of this.
Instead, it gets yada yadaed with a few cutaways and voice over.
The film has spent so long on discussions with agents, making TV westerns could we not have seen some culture clash comedy?
Leo’s Italian career, getting married, is the second act.
Now I’m no screenwriting expert, but if you can cut out the middle of your story with a title card, you might want to work out what story you want to tell.
Back in Hollywood Rick, Cliff have a last hurrah before going their separate ways. Members of the Manson family show up with the intent to invade the Polanski house (Rick’s neighbours).
Rick shouts at them for driving their noisy car into the cul-de-sac. For that the members of the Manson clan switch targets.
The Manson members break into Dalton’s house. What follows is brutal violence even Leo then joins in with his flamethrower.
I’ll be honest; I laughed a lot during the violence. It was shocking, brutal and protracted.
For all the criticism that Tarantino has endured for not giving women many lines, the same cannot be said when it comes to violence. He’s equal opportunities when it comes to people getting mauled.
As it was happening, I enjoyed the violence of the final section. Not the violence itself but because something with stakes was happening.
There was an element of suspense.
It’s been three days since seeing the film. The violence of the last act, now that the initial shock of it has worn off doesn’t sit right.
It’s not because it rewrites history it’s more because of the short-sightedness of the action.
At the end of the film, Rick meets Sharon Tate, the superimposition of the title there’s an inference. The inference things would have been different had Tarantino’s character’s existed. America may have taken a different path. There is an inference the summer of love would have continued.
I understand it’s a film and it’s make-believe but let’s look at it from the movie’s internal logic.
The Manson family are still at large.
Three of their members have been brutally murdered by the Hollywood elite. Do you think it could lead to more desperate acts?
The Manson family are the cough, not the cancer of American culture. There was a shift in the attitude in America. The Manson family were part of the manifestation of that shift. The Vietnam War was happening during the film’s setting. Watergate was three years away.
Stopping the Tate murders, no matter how well meaning, would not prevent the cultural rot from taking hold.
I’m reading too deeply into Tarantino’s motivations. Here is my most cynical take on his rewriting history. This is pure speculative mind reading. Maybe Tarantino isn’t sad about the death of Tate herself but the ramifications it had on Polanski’s career. Had she lived perhaps he wouldn’t have had to flee the country years later?
Have I got it wrong?
Did you like this film? Have I misread Once Upon A Time In Hollywood completely? I’m interested in your feedback.
With Tarantino, he comes with high expectations. Sometimes the relationship you have to Tarantino is of a teacher and student. You watch an A+ student lose enthusiasm then coast by on a C. It’s frustrating, to say the least.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood feels like Quentin had a series of skits that he couldn’t make an entire movie out of. Tarantino said, fuck it and patched it together with voice over and intertitles.
Hail Caeser by the Coen brothers is a similar kind of film. It’s a series of sketches tied together loosely by an overarching plot. It’s set in the 40s and deals with the red square, it is twice as entertaining and half as long. Give it a watch.
Another film that I will be talking about next is Under Silver Lake. It would make an excellent double feature with Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. One about the golden age of Hollywood, the other about the legacy.
I didn’t like Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, there may be something you get from the film. Hope Quentin hangs it up after his next movie. I can’t help but feel that he should have quit even sooner.
Oh well. Maybe someone will make a film that imagines a reality where the reaction to Jackie Brown didn’t dent his ego. A guy can dream.
A guy can.