Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

He was more than a brother, but less than a wife.

Tarantino's latest is a shaggy, buddy romance, a hangout movie, a revisionist tragedy (as has become Tarantino's narrative signature for the last decade), a love-letter to the meandering epics of Sergio Leone, and a bizarrely complex halting of American culture.

Once Upon a Time... exists in a version of 1969 that likely never existed. It's a slice of mid-century Americana where cowboy pictures rule the screens and the troubles of Vietnam, the civil rights struggle, the gay rights movement, seem impossibly far away. Every once in a while they bleed in through the edges of the screen, but slowly and surely, Tarantino blots them out, giving us a sun-kissed California mostly care-free. DiCaprio's Rick Dalton is a cowboy television star at the end of a multi-season run of a widely-watched Western serial. His anxiety about relevance and finding meaning in life grows as he leafs through a dimestore Western novel about an injured cowboy left adrift in a world in which he no longer belongs.

Rick's stunt double, Cliff, an equally stupendous Brad Pitt, is a taciturn, confident, and contented fellow to Rick. He lives with the Western star, tending to the house and any needs Rick might have while at work. We sense no jealousy nor frustration, just dutiful loyalty. And, in many ways, he's the perfect mirror to his adorable attack dog; loyal, quiet, but compassionate. Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate is given less time to develop than the love story at the center of the picture - that of Rick and Cliff - but her time on screen is no less compelling. The best of her arc comes toward the end of the picture as she moves through the routine of her day, stopping, for a while, at a local picture house to see her latest movie with an audience. As she sits in the theater, her face lit up by the images on screen, we see her grin, ear-to-ear, as the audience laughs and cheers at the film. It's just a beat, but a beautiful beat; as an artist sees her art actually affect others, even if just for a moment.

The central tragedy, of course, something which Tarantino slyly plays into, is the historical dramatic irony the set-up creates. I won't spoil how he upends expectations, but suffice it to say, the ending of Tarantino's latest is an uproarious spectacle. A fireworks display of a finish that has the energy of a screaming giallo with the precise, revisionist purpose of Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained.

I'm not entirely sure all the pieces of this winding tangled thread work as well as Tarantino aimed. And, the striking ways in which he weaves in side-plots and side-characters seems, when placed in context of the broader aims of the picture, to be oddly conservative in a way that often seems to conflate his clear nostalgia for the period's art with the entirety of the time's culture. But, ultimately, Tarantino's revisionist aim here, is, as it was with Inglourious Basterds and Django, moral and compelling.

This is well worth a watch.

Block or Report

Aaron liked these reviews