Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Adolf Hitler, a plantation owner, and now Charles Manson. As if Quentin Tarantino's aims with his latest piece of historical fiction weren't precisely clear from the base premise, the building blocks for the inevitable climax are put unsubtly in play in short order. While we wait for the beat-for-beat payoff we have predicted to be en route, Tarantino does what has been his habit for a decade now - linger on forced references to media he loves, as well as Kevin Smith-esque references to his own prior output.

As Tarantino has refined his camera to be more comparable to such contemporaries as Spike Lee and Paul Thomas Anderson than it was in these filmmakers' more comparison-rife 1990s heyday (which is not to say that heyday does not have its time-tested triumphs such as the entirety of the Uma Thurman sequence in "Pulp Fiction"), his subject matters have offset the balance by growing increasingly self-serving. One cannot argue with the fundamental fantasies of a Jewish man shooting Hitler, a black man taking down a plantation, and now an emblem of the Hollywood era Tarantino most reveres preventing the Tate Murders and their subsequent shockwaves, though as the years push on their presentations feel more and more like Quentin playing with extremely expensive action figures in reaction criticisms he resents. Utilizing this story to overtly defend the gratuitous film violence Tarantino is often raked over is a troubling quest, particularly when this film's celebration of violence is deliberately gratuitous as opposed to that of, say, "Kill Bill", where the stylizations bear greater purpose on top of that narrative's deeper emotional core. The catharsis of Hitler's face exploding apart under Eli Roth's rain of bullets is not quite matched in this film by what winds up feeling like Tarantino's attempt at Judd Apatow-influenced physical comedy - something that didn't even work for the great Martin Scorsese in the last film Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie co-starred in (ed.: the last film I actually reviewed in full instead of in blurb form... yikes).

At least here, unlike with "Django Unchained" and "The Hateful Eight", the proceedings are mostly enjoyable at face value, thanks in large part to Brad Pitt being Brad Pitt as well as the infectious, interconnecting 1969 soundtrack. And - not to miss the forest for its trees - at least this Manson is indeed portrayed as a clear villain as his aforementioned predecessors were in what has become of the Tarantino canon. Charlie's spectre looms over the piece in an effectively tense as opposed to exploitative or even sympathetic manner, contrasting many other tellings of the events he incited. This character is not even given any significant screen time through which he could wind up exalted on wall posters and fan tattoos like so many other movie antagonists. Finally, at least, and maybe most importantly, Michael Madsen is still the reigning master of the dramatic pause.