I’m a huge fan of the American Westerns of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. My wife (the person who accompanied me to this film) is a huge history buff and knew a lot (going in) about Helter Skelter. And for most part, this movie had us smiling with satisfaction throughout. That said, I can see how someone who lacks interest in these two specific areas, may find “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” meandering, with a story that is almost nonexistent.
Set in 1969, the ninth film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino follows has-been television actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) who made his name as the star of a canceled serial Western, and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they both ruminate on the next chapter of their lives. There is also a secondary plot concerning the murder of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) by the Manson family (not a spoiler alert by any means).
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a Ted Talk, where Tarantino’s thesis seems to be: The Golden Age of Hollywood ended the exact moment Sharon Tate was murdered.
It’s undeniable that there are many technical aspects of this film which are not only nailed, but are perfected. It looks, smells and sounds the way I’d imagined Hollywood 1969 to be. A love letter to old Hollywood or a fetishized fan fiction of an infamous true crime, would both be true assessments. And it’s all done with spectacular attention to detail. Also, the characters are so interesting, that when Tarantino makes us watch Sharon Tate go to the movies and watch as the fictionalized characters Booth and Dalton have seemingly meaningless interactions and pontificate on the “ending of an era” for literally hours, we enjoy doing so. As for the acting, it’s really good, but clearly not the most impressive thing to see here.
Final Thought: Tarantino hates hippies..and editing. The ending was the only real issue I had. And while I won’t spoil it, my problem had nothing to do with accuracy and everything to do with tone. The final 30 minutes is explosive, giving Tarantino fans the pulp brutality we’ve all come to love and expect. But for me, this last bit really just didn’t fit with the story as well as I expect it was supposed to. It played like a short film, detached from the overall plot of the initial two plus hours. Another way of putting it would be to say that I had no problem with the aggressive content, but merely I enjoyed the“day in the life” stuff, more than the final 30 minutes of “action”.
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