To describe any Tarantino film as less than excellent would be, in my opinion, sacrilege. So let’s cut to the chase here. This is excellent.
The question is…how excellent? And how ‘acceptable’.
And that’s where deconstructing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood becomes tricky.
It’s most similar in its narrative structure, I’d say, to Pulp Fiction, probably his flawed masterpiece, in that it doesn’t really have one. I mean there‘s kind of a story, a long one, but I don’t think that’s what he set out to do here.
He set out to capture the fragility of two fading performers; one a star actor (DiCaprio) and one a star stunt man (Brad Pitt).
That the movie’s triumph lies in the hands of Pitt rather than DiCaprio is interesting. Probably DiCaprio has more screen time, but Pitt has more presence. And Pitt is coping better with his fall from grace.
It’s almost a portmanteau (I know my friends say I’m a pretentious twat for using that word) but it is a THING. Usually a portmanteau is a loosely linked collection of short films under a kind of director’s curation.
Here, though, I think it is a sort of continuous dream sequence, of beautiful but uneventful linking scenes, between big ‘pieces’ – the portmanteaus – it’s like walking through an art gallery enjoying a painter’s studies before BOOM, here’s the big canvas.
Tarantino creates 8 or 9 stunning canvases. One of the most affecting, for me, being the beautiful and funny scene DiCaprio shares with 8 year old Julia Butters as his method acting co star in a last chance Hollywood western.
To say the one scene of violence is a career high would be to both underestimate it and potentially spoil the movie so I won’t disclose where, when or how it happens, like the best of Tarantino it is unexpected and both viscerally shocking and hilarious.
One of my female companions only had eyes for the stunningly handsome Brad Pitt (there’s quite a diet Coke moment about an hour in – and I have ordered the Champion Spark Plugs T Shirt) and I thought he stole the show (see above), but let’s not gloss over DiCaprio. He’s great. But the devil has the best tunes.
Margot Robbie is no more than a muse, and wasted. He does that a lot – does Quentin – a weakness. Uma Thurman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Pam Grier have bucked the trend, but it’s rare to leave a Tarantino screening with the actresses front of mind.
Is he a masoginist? No, I don’t think so, but close, but it’s the guys that get the greater spoils in the master’s work.
The other question the film undoubtedly raises though is…is he racist? Uncomfortable, yes, but I felt pretty creeped out by the Bruce Lee scene where Karate and eastern fighting arts are pretty much laughed off the screen in the Bruce Lee fight scene. I didn’t find it acceptable actually.
The music has been hailed as a masterpiece, but for me it’s one of his weaker selections. Trying to cram too much in.
The styling, though, is exquisite, as is the cinematography.
Overall I’d rank it as in the upper half, just, of his repertoire. But what do you think?
- Kill Bill Part 1
- Pulp Fiction
- Jackie Brown
- The Hateful Eight
- Once Upon a time in Hollywood
- Django Django
- Death Proof
- Reservoir Dogs
- Inglorious Basterds
- Kill Bill Part 2