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.

The catalyzing moment of this film, which seems to really be the decisive factor in how people are reacting to it, is of course that ending, and I can't deny that I was deeply uncomfortable with it. The dominant, lasting image, actually really the only lasting image for me from this first watch anyway, is that of Brad Pitt, seeming to be enjoying himself immensely, and with an intense, drug-induced interest in what he's doing, dangling a ragdoll that used to be a person by its hair, and continuously smashing its face in. I felt none of the catharsis that I think I was intended to feel here, only intense discomfort. I hesitate however to say that this moment or this film outs Tarantino as particularly more misogynistic than any of his other films do. I suspect instead that this may be the first time Tarantino has lost the forest for the trees. This being his "most personal film" it felt to me that he was so deep in the weeds of his own interests that he was unable to build a structurally satisfying film.

Maybe for some, (it certainly seems to be the case for Tarantino), The Manson Family bears enough cultural baggage to justify their complete lack of characterization (even the Nazis in Inglorious Basterds - the film Tarantino is self-cannibalizing here - the ready-made uber-villains of the 20th century, are more human than the hippies presented here, and in that film at least he gave us one especially bad villain with lots of juicy lines to really get the tension flowing) but for me, someone for whom interest in that particular crime, for all its cultural import, has never really gone beyond "curious Wikipedia perusal," I need more than just my foreknowledge of the bad things they did to justify responding the way Tarantino seems to want me to.

Every Tarantino film to some extent requires knowledge of what he's referencing to fully appreciate, but in the past I think the films can still be enjoyed even with the bare minimum of such knowledge, because he's always put in the work to build a satisfying structure, and entertaining, punchy dialogue. This film, to me at least, lacked these things. Even setting aside the climax, I found the film rather flat. Certain scenes and moments worked, but the whole thing kind of breezed by without much to take hold of. Maybe it's my particular lack of knowledge in the subjects and references he's working with this time, but it just didn't do much for me. I feel like Tarantino would probably have a ready response to any criticism, based in these references ("No ya see, the whole thing is a riff on Behind the Green Door. The violence at the end is the exact length of the cumshot sequence!" or "Of course Cliff has depth, he's Hal Needham AND Robert Wagner, dig?") but even as big of a nerd as I am, I either wouldn't know what he's talking about, or would lack the passion to care.

I guess what I'm getting at, is that most of Tarantino's other films to me feel like calculated genre pieces in his own singular style that include, but are not defined by his quirks. This one feels more like a tone-poem of an era. A love letter to his favorite obsessions. I guess I just don't think that's really his strong suit, and the result is a film which had little effect on me right up until it did, and by then it was the wrong effect entirely.

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