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.

This just feels so weighty and significant that I really wanted to wait until I had time to get the review right. It seems that that is not going to happen so I had better do it before I let anything else slip from my memory.

I was thoroughly enchanted with this right up to the ending. I did not like the historical revisionism with the ending in Inglourious Basterds but I absolutely reveled in that in Django Unchained. I think I did not like the specificity of it. I could really be down with a fantasy of killing slaveowners representing the generic class and the sins of slavery. The death of top Nazis was too specific to the deaths of individuals and did not represent the broader evil for me in the way a Django-like ending set in a concentration camp or in Hitler's bunker at the end where the actual events are murky enough to allow for some play. Were I Jewish or from some other affected group, I might feel differently.

So it was with Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. The failure of the Tate-La Bianca murders and the horrors inflicted on the Manson family gave me no sense of vicarious justice in the way the defeat and consignment of the Manson proxies to hell did in Bad Times at the El Royale. Not having lived there where the antics of the Manson family were close enough for me to feel personally, it is not close enough for me to feel it personally when they were slaughtered in the movie. I know plenty about the Manson murders and was very intrigued with everything, particularly the splicing of the fictional characters onto so much believable history that the sudden shift at the end really lost me.
I was really enjoying the tension and sense of dread from the approach of the murders, not knowing how Dalton and Booth would be worked in and the ending deflated the tension and the bubble of alternate reality that had been created for me to that point. I freely admit that I may have had a much different reaction if I had lived in a California media market where I had to put up with Manson BS over the decades. I did not so I felt the ending as someone else's vengeance.

I led with this not because this was the movie but specifically because it was the only thing holding me back and I want to justify my reservations in a way that also reflects on my relative lack of enthusiasm for Inglourious Basterds.

The movie was beautiful and really created a complete world for me. DiCaprio exudes an anxious brilliance of the sort I can easily representing an aging Hollywood star projecting. I loved him getting worked up using a racial slur and tossing the kidnapped girl to the floor in his guest role as the villain. His self-loathing used to drive himself to get the lines right in the trailer to the point of essentially threatening himself to kill himself was something I believed was really happening.

Brad Pitt also encapsulated a real life in a few strokes. He was the man I have seen (and even felt myself to be) adjusted to being less than he had hoped to be but still relatively satisfied with the results. When he was roofing and pulled out the cigarettes and beer I had a flash of memories of my grandfather working on the farm and realized Cliff Booth was about the same age Grandad was at the time and it shifted my whole perspective on the film. From then on I really felt like I was gaining an insight into his world and I do believe Tarantino, for better or worse, really hit the world of 1969 as I can only imagine as my grandfather experienced it.

I was so underwhelmed by the Bruce Lee part. The controversy was so overblown I was expecting there to be something really egregious. Instead, Booth's self-serving memories of why he cannot work as a stunt guy get reduced to a fantasy where Lee knocks him down and he held his own by dodging Lee. This is Booth's self-serving memory of Bruce Lee and does a pretty good job of imagining it from his perspective so that the audience can easily imagine that he got knocked down and put a (much smaller) dent in the car while barely keeping himself off the ground a second time.

This is probably the most positive I have felt about Margot Robbie. I do not like her very much so I find her extremely compelling in roles where she is bad or unpleasant (like in The Favourite or Suicide Squad) but she really worked for me here because I never found Sharon Tate to be attractive and Robbie did a wonderful job of walking through what it might be like to be a star on the rise, playing the impending doom so innocently (again, making me wince now at the feint).

Margaret Qualley was very compelling as Pussycat so I was not too surprised that she was Andie MacDowell's daughter. She has a lot of talent and played it both to where Booth would be attracted but also where you could see him backing off.

Nicholas Hammond was an incredible Sam Wanamaker, capturing the innate decency of Wanamaker so that you could really feel him knowing that he is participating in Dalton's decline and wanting to do him a solid by playing down the parts that would hurt him and leaning in to give Dalton an opportunity to shine.

Damian Lewis' brief turn as Steve McQueen was fun. Al Pacino seems to have rediscovered acting in his powerful portrayal of Marvin Schwarz. Or, maybe, Tarantino was just the director who was able to reign in all of the bloated excess Pacino seems to have been insisting on for the past 20 years, paring it down the brilliance Pacino has to offer when he wants to.

I did not recognize any anachronisms, though I did recognize a lot of locations from novels set in LA and also from movies filmed there, which turned out to be an added delight.

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