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.

Like all too many who grew up wanting to be a director from my film school generation, I went through a phase where I worshiped Quentin Tarantino. I still maintain that his first 6 films reveal a knowledge and natural talent that remains close to unrivaled. But his last 2 pictures have made clear his limitations, not only as an artist but as a human being.

This film is an indulgent and out of touch mess, and perhaps most tragically, it reveals a level of privilege that really makes you stop and think: "Of all the movies you could have made with this cast and this premise, this is the movie you made...?" While perhaps he is attempting some sort of sad, unearned commentary, cutting from a bit where we learn that Booth murdered his wife to a scene with Emile Hirsch is virtually impossible to ignore - add in the horrible Steve McQueen exchange and the deliberate parallels from Hirsch to Polanski, and I'm convinced he was cast on purpose, and perhaps in spite of the controversy. Which is kind of fucked up.

The two ladies next to me - as well as most of the entire theater - were cracking up during the insulting Bruce Lee scene. So, was he attempting some sort of leaden fake-out foreshadowing with the training cutaways later? Didn't work either way. Part of me can't believe I actually predicted the ending of this movie months ago - and there is printed evidence in my article at The Playlist - yet I convinced myself that Quentin wasn't going to do that. But... he did that... and it's pretty childish.

The structure is an absolute clunkfest. The whole stretch at the Ranch is awkward and laborious. It's like he felt an obligation to shift the film from a breezy hangout movie into an ominous thriller, but it's entirely ineffective as he made two different movies here. It's only even there as an excuse for the climax to exist, really (which has nothing to do with the first film). The gag with Dalton on set is great; the trailer tantrum is gold, but the scene with the little girl? Wow, that conversation is hamfisted. And I'm not even going to get into Robbie, but... yeah... no.

There was no reason for Quentin Tarantino to make this movie except to please himself. It's often more annoying than it is entertaining. It feels like a third of the running time is filled in with behind the back car interiors and tracking shots of people's feet, but the quality of the film's craft can't be ignored. Sadly, "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" is a revisionist fantasy in almost all of the wrong ways; it's the story about how a couple of cowboys - a movie star and his stuntman - saved Hollywood by brutally bashing some hippie girl's faces in.

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