Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is, as the advertising proudly tells us ‘The 9th film from Quentin Tarantino’ except he recently reveled that Kill Bill is really one film which makes this his eight? But then what about Death Proof and Grindhouse? IMDB’s no help, it claims he’s directed 22 things. (Including an episode of ER? That must have been a bit of a lane change.) You know what, it’s too early in the morning for an existential mathematical crisis so i’m just going to say that Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is A film from noted Phalanges enthusiast Quentin Tarantino.
And it is a film about…. Erm what the hell is it about? Tarantino has asked us not to spoil the film and I fully intend to honor it so i’m simply going to say that Once Upon a Time is about a faded television actor and his stunt double striving to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.
Which already throws up an issue as the “Golden Age of Hollywood” had long been over by then, and by practically two decades. The 1960s to the 1980s are, according to movie historians, considered the era of “post-classical cinema”. But, as this is the Era that Tarantino grew up watching, this is (and indeed comes across as) a love letter to the Hollywood of his childhood. It’s a film that feels like a dream, a tale of… erm… ‘life?’
Or, as ABBA called it in their masterly song about being over the hill and on your way down whilst seeing the next big thing coming to take your place in the eternal circle of life. About raging against the dying of the light whilst in another thread, Brad Pitt’s former stuntman seems more philosophical about it all, just hanging around with Leonardo Di Caprio (who spends most of this film looking like Zac Efrons dad), whereas in a third plot thread, Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate just sort of hangs out and goes to see her own movies. That’s the first two hours, their baggy, saggy, full of scenes and indeed entire segments that could have been cut but then… it wouldn’t have been a Tarantino film.
And yes, I did say the FIRST TWO HOURS. This film is a Lord of the Rings long but unlike that slightly over-rated series, this film flew by. For me. I get the feeling that the love of my life was slightly less enraptured. Then in the last 45 minutes something resembling a plot turns up and we see where Tarantino was heading. And that’s all i’m going to see on the matter asides from the fact that we both loved the ending.
Besides, there’s so much more to say about this film. Because, and I know you’ll never believe this, a Taratino film has been making the controversy rounds. And he normally makes such sweet, family friendly films. But the controversy this time has not been from where you’d expect but instead from Bruce Lee’s estate of all places. Which seems pretty tame given all the controversies he’s engendered in the past. Also, if last years completely awful Birth of the Dragon didn’t do any damage to Bruce Lee’s legacy a two minute cameo in what might possibly be a dream sequence ins’t going to do anything.
It’s hard to quantify Once Upon a Time. It’s baggy but also tight, it’s so easy to state that the first two hours of this film are plotless but they develop such interesting characters it barely seems to matter. There are loads of Tarantino films with strong narratives, but this is a reminiscence, of the kinds of films that you grow up watching and then hold up as ideals that modern films can never measure up to. (Unless you came of cinematic age in the 90’s. Then you cling to the 80’s for dear life.)
I don’t think it’s going to get any Oscar nominations (even though all the lead cast deserve them) and I don’t think it’s going to stand up to repeat viewings or be put on at movie night at chateau Miles anytime soon. It’s the kind of film you watch twice. Once to see it, then again to see what you missed and then probably never again.
Some people might not even manage that, I noticed a few people walking out of my screening and a few other shuffling in their seats. But if you can get this film, then you’ll love it. The way it looks back (in a slightly idealized way) about a time that has passed and will never come again. Besides, the day a Tarantino film pleases everyone is the day Jai Courtney wins an Oscar and brings about the end times.
There is no-one else like Tarantino who could have made what by rights should be a shambling, overlong – even though the original cut ran for four and a half hours which i’m sure will come out one day, mess of a film.
I many ways it is a mess, but, looking back, I just can’t see what I would cut. It’s no masterpiece but I kind of get what it was going at. And I loved the little touches, putting Di Caprio into old roles that his character ‘almost got.’ The extended cutaways and just the whole feel of the film.
Don’t go into Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood expecting anything. The title should be a clue. It’s a dream, a ‘what if? a singular vision made by a singular filmmaker. And whether he only makes one or two more movies then i’ll still be waiting for them with baited breath and tickets booked for opening night.
My Score- See It