When you’re watching a Tarantino film, there’s no doubt that you’re definitely watching a Tarantino film and “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” is no exception. The majority of this film is unequivocally genius, hilarious, suspenseful and gratifyingly violent like only Tarantino can deliver, but there are also stretches which are paced terribly, unreasonably long (there is absolutely no freaking reason for this film to be two hours and forty minutes) and somehow missing that sleek finish which made such films as “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” such masterpieces.
I’ll be getting into spoilers from here so if you’re planning on seeing it but haven’t yet maybe ease up for now. “Hollywood” is a revisionist account of the notorious Manson family murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others in 1969, and like “Inglorious Basterds”, provides a sense of retribution and catharsis for a heinous crime which shook an era.
The film follows the fictional lives of Hollywood leading man Rick Dalton (Leo DiCaprio) and his stunt man/ best buddy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) in the months leading up to the infamous day. Dalton is becoming disenchanted with the cutthroat nature of Hollywood while Booth cruises around doing odd jobs for Dalton and hoping for stunt work (which is proving increasingly difficult since he allegedly murdered his wife).
Parallel to this story is that of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the beautiful, sweet and wholesome actress who (in this universe) lives next door to Rick Dalton. Due to a series of lucky coincidences, the Manson family psychos arrive at Dalton’s house instead of Tate’s, and in true Tarantino style, Cliff and his pit bull brutally beat up and kill two of the intruders while Dalton roasts the third with his blow torch.
It’s undeniable that Tarantino is an expert at his craft; the dialogue is slick; the cinematography is superb and the performances are proper movie star performances. The chemistry between DiCaprio and Pitt in particular is unreal, and I hope they team up again because they work perfectly together on film.
As a film overall though, it just didn’t quite work for me.
What Tarantino does beautifully is create multiple narratives and tie them all in seamlessly at the end, most notably so in “Pulp Fiction”. He’s tried to do the same thing here, but it just seemed very clumsy to me. It was underwhelming that the main reason for the Manson weirdos not killing Sharon Tate was that they got the wrong house. The two stories themselves (let’s say Dalton/ Old Hollywood and Sharon Tate/ The Manson Family/ Cliff) are connected by only very flimsy threads and I can remember thinking that there were episodes of Seinfeld that work the multiple story angle with more finesse.
The story of Dalton is more or less Tarantino’s omage to the golden era of Hollywood, and the set pieces are sensational. These scenes are dripping in nostalgia, and it is fun being immersed in this world. But after a scene of Dalton performing in one of his television cameos that went for something like 12 minutes when the same impact could have been achieved in 5 minutes, and a bizarre and unnecessary rapport with a little girl co-star, I began to think that Tarantino was starting to lay it on a little thick.
One aspect which I actually thought was quite clever though was the portrayal of Sharon Tate. Tate’s murder was considered by many to be the symbolic end of the 1960s; she represented beauty, kindness, free love and youth. It would be easy to criticise the lack of complexity or development in this character, but I think that this was done very deliberately; Robbie portrays the image of Tate that society knew and remembered, and in this fairy tale, she lives on and so too does the spirit of the 1960s while her would be murderers are brutally and gratifyingly ripped apart. That’s one of the reasons why the final twenty minutes of the film are so much fun, (Dalton walking out of his garage with that flame thrower was one of the most badass things I’ve ever seen) and the collective glee of the audience in my cinema was palpable as the Manson murderers are served their grizzly justice.
There’s a great film somewhere in here, but it’s been almost suffocated by the excess of too much of a good thing.
My favourite dessert is lemon delicious, but there’s a point where it becomes too rich, too lemony and too damn much. For me, “Hollywood” was just too much Tarantino, and had this film been 2 hours instead of almost 3, I think I would have left the cinema wanting more, rather than trying to understand why the latest film of one of my favourite directors left me feeling disappointed.
By Jock Lehman