Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

Driven out of house and home by the unholy shoom of a neighbour's party (shitty quantized pop played so loud even noise-cancelling headphones didn't silence the din), I fled to my local filmdrome to catch the midnight screening of Quentin's Ninth. On taking my seat in a largely empty auditorium, I was lucky enough to be joined in the row behind by a young goon and his airhead girlfriend, who proceeded to talk volubly throughout the first 10 minutes of the film. When turning round and glaring at them elicited no response, I upped sticks and moved down about 5 seats. Not so much as a batted eyelid - people moving away from them must be a common occurrence. Honestly, the sense of entitlement is staggering. Unfortunately, I could still hear their incessant chatter (or rather hers, he mainly seemed to be dumbly nodding) from my new vantage point. Having resigned myself to watching the film with a hand over one ear, imagine my delight when they both up and left about 20 minutes in. Clearly the energizer bunny's batteries had died. To be fair though, it is vexing. The one thing you don't expect when you go to see a Tarantino movie is for it to have so much fucking dialogue :| Moral of the story: people, everywhere, suck.

This digressionary introduction brings us to a film that's all about digressions. OUaTiH is Quentin Tarantino's much touted ninth film; that's right folks, his NINTH (for the record, Stanley Kubrick's ninth film? 2001: A Space Odyssey. What are you getting at, WA? Oh nothing, just saying), and it's really a lot of fun! Overindulgent, without a doubt, hang out with the stars, wish fulfillment fantasy bullshit about nothing in particular, but a helluva good time. It definitely doesn't need to be almost 3 hours long but it's to its credit that I hardly noticed it was; I was too wrapped up in chilling with Cliff Booth and co, tearing round the Hollywood hills in the '66 Coupe de Ville, hanging out with Rick Dalton on the back lot, shooting the shit with Sharon Tate - plots are so overrated.

Aside from the burnished cinematography and conspicuous car porn, it's two great central performances from Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio that drive the film. Dalton is a semi-successful jobbing actor in the throes of a mid-career crisis, while Booth is his loyal buddy, never begrudging of his friend's modest success, just happy to be along for the ride with his own sense of self-fulfillment. He's a lot more zen than Rick, and superficially amiable, but there's a darker side too. Neither puts the other in the shade, though the combined star power is palpable. I wouldn't say Margot Robbie is miscast as Sharon Tate, but she isn't given much to do - she's basically this wide-eyed pixie girl-child, the love and the glamour of Hollywood reflected in her wide adoring eyes.

I might as well fess up now, I'm not a QT fanboy. I love the original crime trilogy but he kinda lost me after that and this is undoubtedly the film I've enjoyed most since Jackie Brown - it has that same eye for detail, subtle characterization and flashes of genius that drew me in originally. The idea of splicing a 'young' Rick Dalton into old film footage was inspired. The mise-en-scène is ravishing, the dialogue QT-loaded. It should be acknowledged that one of Dalton's most memorable lines, referring to the Manson clan's rust bucket as a "mechanical asshole", was lifted from Christine, though DiCaprio's delivery is every bit as good as Robert Prosky's. As ever with Tarantino, there's a fine line between thievery and homage and he's such a thoroughbred film geek, with such a deep well of obscure references to draw on, it's safe to say your average cinemagoer wouldn't know the difference.

Much has been made of the rapid escalation to violence at the end, some saying it comes out of nowhere and spoils the flow of the film, but I'd have to disagree with that. It's jarring for sure, but within the violence there's an archness, especially in Cliff's acid-scorched brain reacting to the absurdity of the situation. It almost parallels Walter's confrontation with the nihilists in Lebowski. Come to think of it, there are parallels with the Coens everywhere here, not just in Lebowski, but the bros' own love letter to Hollywood cum satire of the studio system, Hail, Caesar! Sorry, where was I? The archness, yes. It fits the tone of the film, if not the narrative logic, and it's very Tarantino. The one place I think he oversteps the mark is in his (literal) takedown of Bruce Lee - it just seems like a cheap shot without much payoff.

In my eyes, the finale is a delicious slice of Grand Guignol, QT style, and the fantasy of having some of Manson's evil family clan members retrospectively punished is cathartic I suppose, justice for Tate - except it isn't really. It was fun hanging out. If there's a deeper meaning to Tarantino's epic fairy tale of a bygone era that never really was, I'm not sure what it is, but perhaps the magic glitter of revisionist silver screen necromancy is enough.

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