**Warning: massive spoilers ahead**
Even though I’m not the most typical or uncritical Tarantino lover – my favourite film of his is Jackie Brown, hardly his best-known one – I couldn’t resist rocking up to my local cinema to see his latest creation. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: an ode to Hollywood, a film about the Manson family, or a disjointed combination of both? The only way to find out was to go and see for myself.
I’ll start by saying that I loved most of the film and very much disliked the rest of it. I’m glad I don’t have to award any stars, as I’d hesitate between one and four of them. Few films have ever left me so divided, which I suppose is an achievement in itself. Not in the least because of the surprise twist at the very end of the film, which I didn’t quite get, but then I quite like being confused by art.
So what did I like? First of all, the acting. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, who play the main characters, are hardly my favourite actors but both of them are doing a stellar job. The scene in which Brad Pitt’s character Cliff confronts the Manson Family at a remote ranch is one of the best ones I have ever seen in any film. And the film’s slow pace and length, which may annoy some, really allows the actors to do their best.
Secondly, there’s the costume and set design. Set in the sixties, the film wonderfully represents the so-called golden age of Hollywood. To such an extent that I was often distracted by whatever was going on in the background instead of focusing on the action itself. If you like classic cars you’ll love this film. If you love intricately detailed shots of people’s homes – like me – you’ll love it even more.
And then there’s the music. Tarantino is well known for inserting obscure songs into his films, often to comic or disturbing effect – of course there’s THAT scene from Reservoir Dogs. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood it’s Cliff’s car radio that supplies most of the soundtrack. And a great job it does. Actually, my favourite scenes were the ones where Cliff is just driving around Los Angeles with Vanilla Fudge, Deep Purple or The Bob Seger System blasting from his speakers. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack all week. I love it.
What did I like less? The portrayal of female characters is disappointing, to say the least. Especially when the male characters are so detailed and multi-layered the women come across as cardboard cut-outs. I love Margot Robbie as an actress but Sharon Tate – her character – comes across as nothing but a giggling airhead. Mikey Maddison as Susan Atkins delivers a wonderful and terrifying speech on popular culture’s glorification of violence, only to be brutally and graphically murdered a few minutes later. Perhaps I missed the point, but it all felt a bit meh to me.
And then there’s the ending. Surprise: it’s violent. What else can you expect when you go and see a Tarantino film, one might say. True. And maybe I’m going soft with age and maybe I just didn’t “get” it. And in any case no one cares about my opinion, anyway. But I’m going to volunteer it nonetheless: I felt it was unnecessary and damaged a film that could have been a hell of a lot smarter. The film was doing a lot of clever and thought-provoking things until the characters started to behave like they’d been teleported into a Saw movie. But then again, perhaps I just didn’t get it.
Would I recommend the film? Yes, if only for the 95% of it that I loved. No, if you prefer your female characters with more depth and are tired of graphic violence (seriously, the sound effects alone were too much for me). There’s a lot of Tarantino worship out there by people who believe he can’t do anything wrong. I prefer to view his work as the product of an artist who is wonderful but not infallible. I like him for making films that are not perfect, that I don’t straightforwardly like or dislike. But I’m curious to see what his next – and some suspect last – film will offer.
Image my own – Sunset over Port of Rotterdam (randomly, I just thought it looks cool)