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.


There are moments in this film I genuinely liked. Tarantino manages to conjure up the image of a 60s Hollywood beautifully, those neon lights flickering to life in a strange filthy chiaroscuro. Brad Pitt driving through the city, weaving in and out, the wind flowing through his hair. The setpiece where Pitt goes to the ranch was incredibly tense and cinematic. DiCaprio filming that western, where he forgets his line and Tarantino uses a singular take to slowly revolve around Olyphant's face as he struggles to remember where the line was, like the whole scene felt incredibly captivating.

DiCaprio's struggle to deal with his irrelevance, the knowledge that if he had gotten in the Great Escape he could have been living it up like McQueen at the Playboy Mansion with Tate and the rest of New Hollywood instead of having to go to Italy, was incredibly portrayed. Sympathy mixed in with "judgement" at why his career floundered, his alcoholism running rampant through the film, where DiCaprio swears to never drink again before taking just one little swig, was a heartbreaking moment for me. Luke Perry's cameo here, a powerless setpiece character, just rammed this point home. And the child actor in this part of the film was incredible.

In the end though, I thought the plot floundered and meandered, long interminable stretches of nothing linking random plot threads, and I found the thematic undertones of the film unsettling. This film took all the criticisms I had of Tarantino's previous works - their incredible bloating - and turned it up to 11, mixing stretches of nothing with feet shots and panning up women's bodies and Tarantino's desire to film a western without actually filming a western.

Personally I feel like Tate's murder was exploited in this film as well, she is a voiceless sex symbol, just a symbol of New Hollywood that Cliff uses to orient his place in Hollywood. Him being invited to her place for a party shows her as some sort of reward, emblematic of how old and new Hollywood can intermingle. Setting Tate up as just a symbol, robbing her of voice in a film that relies on the tension of knowing her murder is at the end, wringing catharsis mostly over the gratuitous death of her killers and not really out of Tate living (it's not like the film focuses on her living, the main languishing focus is on the gruesome death scenes), it does not feel like Tate existed in a story made with her as an inspiration. She just floats throughout the film, a mere cameo in a film that uses her as a symbol of the tragedy of life.

The whole ending scene felt like that seeming American sensibility, where catharsis is gained by drawing blood, blood spilt calls for blood spilled, we are afforded absolution by seeing the real-life murderers die in horrifically over-drawn and stylised ways. A woman being repeatedly smashed against the wall until she is faceless, the other woman being bashed by a can of dog food before being mauled by a dog until she goes into shock and then running through a glass door and floundering in a pool before being set on fire felt incredibly disgusting. The film lingered on these shots of women getting brutalised in its depiction of an event famous precisely because it was a (pregnant) woman who got brutalised. This is revisionism purely for the sake of revisionism, revisionism only for revenge and no meaningful catharsis.

This is a film that sets Polanski up as a rock-star and Cliff Booth, noted wife-killer, as a cool American dude, the embodiment of masculinity, content with his role in the world. Kurt Russell's wife is disregarded as an annoying harpy for being uncomfortable with Booth being on the set. And this could work as some sort of meta-narrative about how willing we are to rehabilitate abusers into the fold if they're cool nice funny, but then you realise Tarantino hired Emile Hirsch to act in this film, a man who brutally choked out a woman because she had the temerity to not go on a date with him. It seems almost like Tarantino through the film is endorsing this view of accepting abusers, of rehabilitating their image by ignoring that pesky time where they bashed women.

The Manson family are hippies who talk about fascists and want to make Hollywood accountable for what they show, it's hard to read them as anything but a surrogate for how Tarantino views the MeToo movement, as exemplified by that scene where Booth is walking off the ranch, and the Manson family jeers at him powerlessly. It is only by their murder that Old Hollywood is allowed to exist with New Hollywood, something that Tarantino shows as positive. And I fail to see how Booth, embodiment of masculinity in all its most toxic and damaging forms is not anything less than a hero, considering he exists in opposition to the Manson Family.

In the end, I feel like the positives of the film are more than drowned out by the misogynistic pulp that makes up this film. I just felt disgust/revulsion/repugnance at the end of this. Maybe it's more accurate to give this a 3/4 out of 10 considering what I think about the positives, but numbers don't mean shit and all I know as I walked out of this film is that I fucking despised what it ended up as.

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