Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

"Can you stand next to the poster? So people know who you are."

Quentin Tarantino loves movies. As I'm sure many of you can agree, we love Tarantino movies in part because they convey this affection through a reverence for the medium and the stories that established its unrivaled influence on the cultural landscape.

Perhaps more so than with any of his other features, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood is Tarantino's most sincere love letter to his lifelong soulmate. It's a marvelously crafted film with impeccable touches of authenticity that make it as watchable a film as he's ever made. And yet, I found myself wishing that it gave me more than what I got from it.

The other classic Tarantinisms are all there: absorbing dialogue, memorable characters, the whip smart humor that hits you when you least expect it, and moments (this probably has the single best final act I've seen all year). So where does it come short from being the director's finest work? For me, it's a case of basking in excess at the expense of more alluring possibilities.

While the three central figures of Hollywood are all intriguing in their own ways, it's Brad Pitt (who does his finest work in years here) who left the deepest impact on me. His seen-better-days stuntman is a riot and a joy to spend time with. The rest of the story is frustratingly imbalanced, focusing too much on an all-too-noticeable washed up actor type and far too little on the tragically doomed Sharon Tate.

Both actors turn in some stellar performances with Leo DiCaprio soaking up his bigger piece of the pie with aplomb and Margot Robbie making the best of her supporting role. However, unlike the masterful allocation of story elements he's consistently displayed in his filmography, here Tarantino lets some narrative threads run too long while others begin to feel like bright spots before being snuffed out. I suspect this is partly due to the director leaning on his nerdier impulses, which in this case, almost choke the rest of the film around them (take, for example, the sheer amount of throwback cowboy-related sequences in this).

Looking back at when this venture was first announced, I was put off by the rumors that it would tell a tale intertwined with the horrific Manson killings. In a twist of irony, I found myself wishing we got less of the has-been cowboy actor story and more of the revisionist twisted hippie cult kid stuff. Speaking of those psychopathic teens, a loopy Margaret Qualley and an unhinged Austin Butler really stand out in this.

I'll certainly be watching this again in the future and I hope a sophomore viewing reignites even more appreciation for it. For now though, this is a film that, while miles better than most of its modern contemporaries, doesn't hit the highest highs I know this iconic director is capable of.

I enthusiastically encourage anyone interested in either old Hollywood yarns or the work of this brilliant director to check this out. Nowadays, it seems like auteurs making big budget original films are a scarcity and yet, film-goers don't seem to be noticing it. I hope that both Tarantino and his ilk continue to remind audiences about what made movies so magical before filmmaking by committee became the unsettling reality it is.

Scavenger Hunt 52 - #20 - A film with a primarily orange poster.

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