ImmigrantFilm’s review published on Letterboxd:
5.0/5.0 = Masterpiece
A phenomenal rewatch! A second time around ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD's themes hit so much more close to home. More than anything, returning to Tarantino's period piece helps you watch it with your blinders off. You're not in the theatre constantly trying to figure out the narrative, its twists and turns, and how the Manson family will factor into this story. In fact, knowing what Tarantino is going to do arguably makes the film more entertaining — it's certainly a very different film on rewatch. Its charms are suddenly something a little more ephemeral. You're not in this for the action or the banter (though both are fantastic). You're in it for Tarantino's thesis: With ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, the name of the game is storytelling.
It's amazing how easily this flies under the radar on a first watch, but literally every character is a storyteller or subject to someone else's storytelling. Rick Dalton exchanges book synopses with his young co-star, Steve McQueen shares Sharon Tate's life story with a party guest, Sharon Tate goes to the theatre to witness her film affecting an entire audience of giggling attendees, and Cliff Booth remembers his twisted reality in which he beats up Bruce Lee. The point is this: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is Tarantino telling us a fairytale. And naturally, a Tarantino fairytale is one that's littered with other people telling stories.
With that in mind, it's brilliant to see how Tarantino's version of Hollywood is at both times a glossy, romanticized wonderland, and a place littered with sly, corrupt, and problematic individuals. Al Pacino's Martin Schwarz is immediately introduced as a ball-buster who attacks Rick Dalton's greatest insecurity (his age) by asking if Cliff is Rick's son. Schwarz obviously doesn't do this because Cliff looks younger. He does it because he wants to make Rick feel like a has-been, getting him one step closer to signing the Italian movie deal.
Everyone has an idea of another person, whether true or not, that informs their reality of Los Angeles. Rick's co-star believes that Rick was nearly offered the leading role in THE GREAT ESCAPE, and Randy believes that Cliff murdered his wife. This also begins to apply to concepts that touch base with the real world. McQueen's monologue about Tate's relationship with Sebring and Polanski, expressly states that Sebring knows that one day that Polish guy is gonna "fuck things up" (a clear nod to Polanski's history of sexual assault). In the meantime, the Manson girl who Cliff gives a ride to believes that she isn't too young to fuck him, he's just to old to fuck her. It's actually a pretty icky subject to pair side-by-side with Polanski's legacy, but I think Tarantino does this intentionally to point at Hollywood's own hypocrisies: After all, it's not the act that ruins us, but the story that we committed it.
With that said, I think Tarantino is tapping into the theory that fiction is a more powerful archivist for the present than any work of non-fiction is for the past. Our current zeitgeist is best captured in our moment-to-moment creative expression, and although his ninth feature is set in 1969, Tarantino uses it to chime in on 2019: a year in which social media allows us to tribally skewer public figures, but also a year that insists on absolutisms. And that notion of storytelling is the credo by which ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD lives and dies by. And more than anything, it's Tarantino's salute to the merits of B-fiction. As much as its stars aspire to join the Hollywood A-list, the greatest lesson they learn is that anything can touch your heart. After all, the one work of art that gets Rick Dalton to cry is a paperback piece of pulp fiction. I think the message speaks for itself.