The latest Quentin Tarantino movie is weaker by his standards but still shines compared to almost everything else this year.
Once upon a time in Hollywood is the kind of movie that reminded me why I fell in love with movies in the first place. This movie reminded me of how movies used to introduce me to new ideas and I used to end up taking something back. It also happened to release in a time when I was getting sick of franchises and was witnessing Tom Holland’s Spiderman getting close to butchered by Sony and Disney. Tarantino has done better work for sure but it’s still one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.
To me, a movie represents an idea and then the idea must be executed to the greatest extent possible. In this case, I absolutely love the idea. Getting to know Hollywood in the late 60s through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino was an absolute joy. I was immersed in every frame of the film trying to observe the production design, the costumes, the recreated streets of LA, the music and so much more. And just like Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino wanted to paint a happy picture even if it distorts reality. Al Pacino is a film producer genuinely interested in the welfare of a fading actor. Cliff Booth despite his lifestyle is never jealous of the life Rick Dalton has and is a genuine friend. And Charles Manson’s family members get head smashed, kicked to death and burnt alive by a flamethrower. I loved every choice he made.
The execution of the idea though is not very exciting. I felt the movie could lose at least 20 minutes of its runtime and still retain the same effect. But even that has to do with the fact that I’m not familiar with LA in the 60s. If it were a movie about an older Bombay, I know I’d relate to it a lot more.
For example, there is a lot of screentime with Brad Pitt’s character just driving around LA. On my first viewing, I thought these moments were completely unnecessary. But apparently, that’s one of the most vivid young memories Tarantino has. Sitting in the back seat with his family on a drive, listening to the radio and watching billboards go by. There are things to observe and appreciate even in these seemingly uninteresting scenes. This makes me believe the more you are familiar with LA, the more you can justify the runtime. Almost every scene is an ode to old Hollywood. And that makes me love this movie even more. Tarantino just wants to share his vision with the world without worrying about the box office. If this is your cup of tea, you’re going to love it. If you don’t, then too bad. And I respect that so much.
I do feel there are sequences that could be streamlined. There are multiple scenes with Sharon Tate doing absolutely nothing that it neither makes her character interesting nor do we learn anything about her. Probably the most memorable and impactful sequence is her watching herself in a movie. But before that, we see her giving someone a lift, moving past the theatre to go to a book store and finally come back to the theatre again. Just showing her go to the theatre directly would have been just fine.
Second, we get a lame interaction between Manson and Tate that was never meant to be used in the narrative. Why even have that in the movie. Keeping Manson as a vague unknown figure would’ve been far more interesting.
And third, the Manson family trying to stop Brad Pitt’s character from meeting Bruce Dern’s character was just pointless. It feels like a desperate attempt to get the audience’s attention because the movie lacked tension throughout. We got an incredibly tense scene in that house which drags long and ultimately leads nowhere. The only thing that sequence achieves is getting Cliff Booth in conflict with the Manson Family. And that ultimately serves as a setup for the gruesome finale. Surely, that could’ve been written better.
This latest Quentin Tarantino movie is definitely towards the lower end in his filmography. The movie doesn’t have any tension to it, it lacks a crisp narrative and can even drag at moments. But it is still easily one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. I could probably just name two or three movies from the year that are actually better. I do know about a few more from film festivals that I haven’t seen yet and have heard unanimous praise for. Hopefully, they take up top spots for the year. But it amazes me that this movie is still one of my favorites for the year. It’s a great movie overall and Tarantino absolutely deserves praise for it.
But what’s more interesting is that we are now in a time when franchises and reboots are becoming the norm. Box office numbers and overall gross numbers mean everything to studios. I can’t help but feel this has caused a decline in the quality of cinema. Once upon a time in Hollywood is a great movie for sure. But its the lack of competition that’s probably made me love it more than I should have.
Did you know that Rick Dalton’s emotional breakdown in his trailer was DiCaprio’s improvisation? Read more about it here.