Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

Quentin Tarantino's new work, 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' is a frequently funny film, though one charged with moments of great sadness. It's a film that seems at first to be preoccupied with a feeling of finality; its disparate strands of plot and the collisions between real-life and fantasy always arriving at the end of things; the end of the Hollywood studio system, the state of innocence, the American "West", a life, the friendship that exists between men, etc.

For the most part it's Tarantino's most restrained and mature film since 'Jackie Brown.' And then all of a sudden it isn't. The title however is the clue. "Once Upon a Time...", like in a fairy-story. Here Tarantino shows the triumph of Hollywood escapism over brutal reality; re-writing history to provide the closure, catharsis (even vengeance) that real life denies us, but which the cinema is more than capable to indulge. As Carleton Young said in 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' - "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

However, if I have a complaint about the film it's this: I wish Tarantino had shown enough courage to follow the story through to its historical conclusion. [Mild Spoiler Ahead] Throughout so much of the film there's a sick-inducing sense of tension and inevitability developing around the expectation of the real-life horrors to come. In this sense, the characterisation of Sharon Tate is the film's representation of American innocence - primed as she is to be lost in a bloodbath of counter-cultural decadence - and the often observational scenes of her character gong about her daily life have a beautiful melancholy to them, which is powerful. But by subverting the reality of Tate's eventual fate, Tarantino betrays those scenes and reduces the characterisation to nothing. A shame. [End Spoilers]

As with recent auteur-driven works, 'The House That Jack Built' by Lars von Trier, 'Glass' by M. Night Shyamalan, 'Once Upon a Time...' has the feeling of a personal, meta-filmic expression of its maker's creative "id"; a work that feels not just like a career-length summation but a final statement. I liked it and had a great time watching it; the actors are excellent and there are some brilliant individual scenes; but it doesn't rank near the top of my essential Tarantino list, which would consist of 'Pulp Fiction', 'Jackie Brown', 'Death Proof', 'Inglourious Basterds' and 'The Hateful Eight.'

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