Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

Sweet, sincere, grounded, wistful and regretful, a grower -- all things I did not expect to say about a Tarantino movie. Once Upon a Time definitely comes across to me as his least mannered and most open/warm/heartfelt movie.

I think his movies are generally quite good, and I think Basterds may be a masterpiece. But this one seems like the one I most enjoyed spending time with, considering, and being haunted by. There are layers of subtext here that most of his work forgoes for more visceral delights.

Rick and Cliff work as archetypes, as symbols of an old world, even as sides of the Self... but they also just work as great characters. That's the brilliance of "Hollywood" -- it has the micro and the macro, and they don't compete. It's packed to the brim with loving and very specific references to 60s Hollywood lore, ads, cars, shoes, music, but it also completely works as a ballad to what could have been, what should have been, and to the belief in what still could be.

The ending does seem like copy/paste Tarantino, so that's my only complaint. And this is without a doubt my favorite Leo performance of all time.

(Added after rewatch, and copy/pasting my comments from a friend's great review) --

About the ending... It's obviously morally disturbing, but there is also more going on with it than just the shock and laughter it is intended to elicit. Maybe what makes this particular violent Tarantino ending feel more layered and digestible is I feel like he's explicitly owning up to his personal biases towards pure cinematic "id", laying naked his love of burlesque-ish movie magic for what it is: a fantasy. The flamethrower at the end (and what it's mirroring -- the acknowledged movie-fantasy of killing the most clear-cut "bad guys" in modern human history) seems like him doing this, and the presence of that "we kill because movies taught us to kill" speech also seems curiously but purposefully paradoxical to the subsequent scene, which is... Movies displaying killing. To me, these form an additional layer alongside the indulgence -- there's an interrogation of self, or at least a self-awareness, which is always fascinating coming from filmmakers, but feels especially powerful coming from a guy like Tarantino, i.e someone who has always seemed utterly shameless.

So while the ending still is, in a way, copy/paste Tarantino, it's being done in ways that engage with the themes of the whole film, and with a self-knowledge that is alluring... But also accommodating to feeling conflicted and upset by the gratuitousness on display. The rare balancing act that works.

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