[June was a pretty dry month for me, I admit. July hasn’t had much to show for either until now. I will update my page with reviews and commentaries from the past couple of months as best I can. For those who subscribe and read my blog, thank you! Your interest and company is greatly appreciated. I hope you all are well. The following is a spoiler-free review. Enjoy!]
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of those films that doesn’t need any begging to exist. Much like the fairytales of old, Tarantino’s thoughtful yarn presents his version of the “what if” regarding the tragic events of the Manson murders in the summer of a 1969 Hollywood. Much attention and detail is spent exploring and experiencing an eclectic cast of characters in vibrant and lively Hollywood. Set, art, and costume design is spectacular, giving a real and seamless feel to being in a place set faraway in a distant time. Acting all around is fantastic with memorable turns from both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a struggling actor and his stuntman sidekick/friend, respectively. Small and supporting bits from the remaining cast including Margot Robbie, Damian Lewis, Luke Perry, and a young Julia Butters make this ensemble all the more merrier and fascinating in its whole and culmination.
Upon further digestion, my thoughts on the film as a whole started to take into consideration more of what I thought Tarantino was aiming to convey in a more-or-less waking-life kind of manner. For one, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of Tarantino’s most personal and quieter films in years. There’s a lot of stillness to be said and seen, and much of it seeks to build an intimate look in the lives of each and every one of his characters. Moments include, for example: drives to and from places, following through and fulfilling obligations, running errands, taking small detours from the plans of the day, moments spent contemplating deep and human issues in solitude, or conversations had among others in more private and candid contexts. Some of those quieter moments are effectively used to build suspense as well; moments to consider include the sequences taking place at a ranch during the day, and another toward the end of the film culminating in one of the more explosive and Tarantino-esque pieces we’ve yet to see. During these moments, granted, it can feel like a long haul for those expecting to be tickled and jolted by hyper-kinetic dialog and ultra-violent gore, but if we can pull back from the throttle and enjoy the ride for what it is, we can see a different side of a director seeking to maintain a fun and entertaining spin to more real and human struggles
Despite a less conventional and structured plot, much of the drive and pull narratively deals in more abstract and human problems: figuring out what to do with the time at hand, coming to grips with one’s own significance and impact, and the struggle to remain relevant and in touch with self and others. When you look back at Tarantino’s more “flavored,” “dicey,” and “bloody” affairs a la Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, Kill Bill, and The Hateful Eight, you see these struggles at play under the shadow of spectacle and thrills. With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, these thrills and spectacles are almost poured into a fine strainer with the purest of human struggle filling up the cup.
I imagine many will wonder towards the end of the film if the payoff was worth the journey. My personal opinion: yes. Why is that? The way I would describe the ending is this: like that of a master bartender slowly and meticulously crafting the perfect drink, a martini, for example, careful consideration of mixtures and ingredients is taken. There’s many different ways to enjoy a martini, and I’m wondering if Tarantino enjoys his a little dirty with an olive at the bottom of the glass. I think, if I had to guess, Tarantino would enjoy his martini these days one sip at a time as opposed to the hard shots of palpable liquor taken in succession shot after shot. As his palate continues to get wet and the flavor builds, the olive becomes more enticing. And the final bite, my word, if you wait long enough, will give your taste buds a helluva experience they’ll never forget.
I think what we have here is a master storyteller and filmmaker taking a sip at the bar gently nodding his empty glass back at us with a wink. Perhaps we are coming to the end of the road with Quentin as he has suggested. Like the Rick Dalton of his film, perhaps it’s a matter of time before the glitz and glam become less enticing. I speak for myself when I say this in that as the older I get, the more I find myself recognizing the desire to be still and quiet in a fast-paced world. I wouldn’t blame Tarantino if he were to quit making films and settle somewhere in a movie theater seat along the historic Hollywood drive all by himself. I imagine, like that of Sharon Tate attending to one of her films with curiosity, we may see a man in his twilight years fondly enjoying his films for what they were once upon a time.