Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

This is going to be the most divisive film of the year, and I'm so glad that we got what we have. Tarantino creates a $90 million, 3-hour long study of how the institutions of materialism destroy the souls of those who buy into the system (or live only to resist it), before pulling the rug out from the audience by denying the satisfaction of an excessively gory climax and an easy ending. This means you'll likely hear a lot of (pretty valid) complaints of "nothing happening" or that it's metafictional navel gazing, but I think the emotional core of the movie could only have been found in this way. The indulgence in period detail and recreation (both in the setting itself and through the film clips made up for the movie) almost seems inauthentic when juxtaposed with the actual ideas at play, but it works as a self-reflexive criticism of the "dream factory" that is so thoroughly studied throughout the movie. The uniformly excellent cast deserves a lot of credit for making this vision shine through, and I particularly love Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate; given the angelic idealization attached to the role, Robbie adds a lot of nuance and humanity to her that makes Tate's character fairly compelling beyond being the thematic lynchpin of the film.


Tarantino's career as a "subversive" filmmaker hit a brick wall sometime around when Django Unchained came out; Gratuitous violence, snappy/quippy dialogue and unconventional narrative structure had become thoroughly mainstreamed by this point, and (in my opinion) The Hateful Eight almost buckled under the weight of trying to execute the expectations placed upon him with the knowledge that it would inherently lack impact. Here, Tarantino reclaims his subversion by trending towards a "traditional" and highly linear structure, providing more naturalistic dialogue that is presented in more naturalistic ways; the amount and quality of the long takes here are gorgeous, and much of the length that is consciously felt here is due to the restrained editing style and relative lack of explicit authorial interjection. Most importantly, the violence is held until the last 15 minutes of the movie and isn't presented in the typically gratuitous and slapstick manner of his other films. This kind of makes it the anti-Inglorious Basterds, especially with the reference to the theater scene that becomes a motif for Rick Dalton's career culminating in the burning of one of the would-be Manson murderers, with the grisly remains on full display afterwards. While some comedy is still found here, it's through the human reactions of the characters involved and not as much through the actual act of harm as in his prior films. Robbie's Sharon Tate becomes the unifying force thanks to this, as her placid acceptance of the system and desire to simply enjoy the world as best she can manages to unify the desires behind the materialstic anxiety of Dalton's character and the corrupted countercultural values of the Manson cult into something much more resembling of the ideals of the free love movement. On top of this, the implications of the ending from the perspective of historical revisionism mean that the potential in this world is available for counterculture and "free love" to thrive without the violent conclusion to the movement that we faced in reality.


I'm shocked that Tarantino rejected the expectations placed upon his work to such a degree, but I'm glad he did. This is just as singular a vision as anything else he's made, but it manages to strike a richer and much more mature emotional core than his other work has in my eyes.

In any case, he deserves bonus points for the second best usage of California Dreaming in any movie ever

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