Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

I really liked Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but it is the reservations I felt as I left the cinema that stayed with me overnight. The odd scene with Bruce Lee (designed I presume to show that Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth could fight), that feels out-of-place, capped off by Zoë Bell's jokey intervention. Tarantino goes out of his way to mock Lee, which sits ill-at-ease with the film's golden-hued Hollywood aura. I don't think it is particularly xenophobic, or particularly offensive, it is just not in keeping with the film Tarantino is making.

Then again, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like a film that cannot help itself. Tarantino just doesn't manage to fully get out of his own way. Again, I really liked the film and I would have loved the film, but for the ending. The vaguely adolescent ending. The final shot is glorious and unexpectedly moving, the preceding 15 minutes to that set me ill-at-ease. To import profundity, from something horrific, in order to turbo-charged the tension of your film, with its docu-drama pretensions, was difficult to digest on first viewing. Once you know what is coming, a second viewing may sit better with me, but on this one viewing, I felt slightly undersold. Then the violence. The violence was gleeful, the audience was invited to cheer, almost to ignore the sourness of the statement. I think I would have forgiven it all, if it has been less euphoric in its saviour complex. A little more restraint and I would have been looking very seriously at the most enjoyable film of the year; but the film just couldn't help itself.

However, the good and great, much outweighs the bad. Brad Pitt gives one of the performances of his career, as the laidback Cliff Booth, almost character-less (though, again, the sequence on the boat...a mis-step?), but filled with pathos due to the sheer ease of the performance. Pitt dispenses with most of his actorly tics, until he brings them roaring back in the third act. Tarantino shoots him like he is in love, as the camera glides around his perfect body, in the same way as it does around Margot Robbie's, and, well, everyone's feet. Pitt is gloriously good in the film and every moment you get to spend with him is a treat. I would have enjoyed it even more if every scene had been him and Leo DiCaprio in a car, driving and listening to music.

DiCaprio himself is giving a really interesting turn, that is almost against the tone of the film. DiCaprio has always been a big actor and here he gives a big performance. His big head filling every inch of the screen. He has the charisma to carry film, even if Rick Dalton doesn't have the character.

The film is full of loving touches, that are at their most enjoyable in the driving sequences, in the neon lights, in the backlots and on Cielo Drive. It wallows in its world, as Tarantino wants to turn back the clock to a prelapsarian time.

However, I don't either really buy the thesis, nor buy that Tarantino means it. Does he despair how the cinema of 2019 is going? I am sure he does. Does he despair of cinema of 1969 and the coming of the 1970s, I am sure he doesn't. I understand that he isn't being literal, and his film is about the changing Hollywood that turns into now, not the Hollywood about to be kicked into its greatest period by Arthur Penn, Hopper and Fonda; De Palma, Coppola and Scorsese.

However, something sits uncomfortably with me, that he is deifying the mid-card, B-movie westerns, the Eurospy thrillers, the fun romping boy's own action, at the expense of the art to come. You can look at my history on Letterboxd and I watch these type of films more than most, so I don't feel the need to bow to anyone on them, but I don't think they have the weight, or were worth saving, even in a fable, in the manner Tarantino wants to.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is fun wish fulfillment, but it isn't my wish and I didn't need it fulfilling.

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