Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★

My knowledge of Inglourious Basterds’ revisionist ending didn’t spoil this film for me as it did for some—I spent most of the last 30 minutes experiencing mounting dread (up through the inspired “Out of Time” needle drop), and was genuinely relieved when Tarantino again employed his cathartic coup de cinema. (I am of the opinion, though, that those leveling charges of gratuity are not without a point. Two things can be true at once: (1) The Manson family were monsters. (2) Tarantino is a sadist.) My problem instead was that the film spends its first two hours meandering through 1969 Hollywood with no substantial narrative throughline. The period detail reconstruction is impressive, no doubt, and the Rick and Cliff vignettes are enjoyable moment-to-moment, but monotony eventually sets in after traipsing through scenery for so long (doesn’t help that I have no special affinity for this era), and it feels like the film rarely gets out of second gear. QT’s dialogue also struck me as relatively undistinguished. My lasting impression is of a film that treads water for about 70% of its runtime before giving way to the gripping story of August 9 that it should’ve been telling all along. But the cast does fine work—Pitt and Robbie, in particular (love the scene in which Sharon joyously watches herself in a matinee showing of The Wrecking Crew)—which does offset the film’s shortcomings.

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