Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

A few scattered first impressions:

“There is a ‘family’ in our driveway.”

When I have some time to write about this, I’ll be noting some intriguing correlations with Jordan Peele’s Us. This is certainly a year in which the outcasts rise up and lash out. The attitudes of the lead characters — and the filmmakers, in fact — toward these troubled uprisings is interesting and, in this case, troubling.
Felt to me, on a first viewing, like a study of, and a declaration of love for, exteriors. Of a time. Of a place. Of people.

Interiors? Those moments that seemed intent on giving us glimpses revealed very little. Maybe that's the point — the hollowness of the Hollywood dreamers. But that makes the movie seem profoundly at odds with itself, celebrating the very religion that costs so many their sense of meaning and purpose.
But oh... the exteriors. Of course, this movie looks great. Tarantino still knows how to film actors and locations in ways that blaze with life.
Does it sound great, though? This screenplay does not snap, crackle, or pop like so many other Tarantino screenplays. I'm already straining to remember particular lines and exchanges. The music of the writing that was such a concert in earlier Tarantino work only plays in fits and starts here.
Rack this up with one of the many performances in which DiCaprio is just acting too hard for me to ever believe in his character. Sure, that's complicated by the fact that his character is a mediocre actor at best, but still — Pitt suspended my disbelief, and DiCaprio did not. If this had been a broader comedy, he would have fit in better. But Pitt is acting in a much subtler, more contemplative film than DiCaprio is.
Another thing: The last 20 minutes of this movie crushed my hopes that this might eventually escape the Curse of the Things that Keep Me Frustrated with Tarantino. Crushed them.

I grew tired a long time ago of the Tarantino "Stand Your Ground" ethic: Design a situation in which characters must commit violence out of self-defense or vigilante justice, and you have a free pass to unleash an orgy of human bodies being spectacularly destroyed for our entertainment. I used to strain for ways to excuse such things so that I could feel better about liking so much else in these movies, but now I just admit it: There's a lot to like in this film, and a lot I cannot defend in good conscience—particularly the bloodshed and bodily harm staged for pleasure rather than any kind of edification. I cannot shake the sense that men who physically abuse women will find some kind of exhilaration in certain graphic sights and sounds. The strange spots in the audience erupting in what sounded like joy during those moments did nothing to dissuade me of this.


At least the violence in Jarmusch's latest, as somewhat underwhelming as that film was, was accompanied by a sense of genuine fatigue and dismay.
If I were to highlight a line that I would like to focus on in a second viewing, one that is repeated in a way that seems important, it would be this: "I never stood a chance." If this film has a theme I find compelling, that line is key to tracing it.

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