Writings #2: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

4 minute read


Part 2 in a collection of posts where I’ll give some of my thoughts and analysis on essays, short stories, novels, movies, etc. It is not really anything academic, but purely for me to practice my writing.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

A motion picture by Quentin Tarantino

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the ninth and allegedly penultimate Tarantino film, does little to surpass his prior work, however, it greatly towers over modern franchise led cinema. I have said many a time that even a mediocre Tarantino film is multitudes superior to its present-day peer. Despite this, I believed the picture is several steps above mediocre, a marvelous work from a dated director.

What separates this work from others? What makes it fall short of the Tarantino Cannes classics such as Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Bastards?

First, I shall comment on why I believe it to be a pronounced work. Many direct cinematography critiques can be made on the film such as the superior camera work, time accurate set, music, incredible acting, and so on. What I appreciated most of the film was not so academic, but something more intangible. Long after having left the cinema, I was still pondering the film, discussing its purpose with other viewers. None of this seems the tell tale sign of a great film, but in the era of Big Hollywood, where movies are safe, monetized and no longer provocative, it was refreshing to say the least. I left having viewed a piece of art and not a product.

I recalled the final scenes of the movie: this was supposed to be about the Manson murders, was it not? The title is apt, but still begs the question why. What is the purpose of rewriting such a tragic history? Some I talked with, who were alive at the time of the Manson murders, offered that it felt justifying; the new storyline offered some sort of happy ending. After all, why glorify such a dark moment?

Part of me believes that Tarantino, whose work is often reproved for vulgar, over-the-top depictions of violence, wanted to state his mind about the violence-hating hippies who blamed Hollywood for their violent inclinations. Just minutes before their gory, horrifying expiration the teenage girl expresses her wish to teach the actors the consequences of feeding the masses violence and ferocity through television mediums. Tarantino seems to justify the grotesque several minutes of mayhem and murder. At least on recollection the violence felt ok. I was not as appalled as I believe I should have been having viewed the scene.

Regardless of the proposed morals of violence in art, it did leave me thinking, questioning if I was allowed to feel the way I did, which is far too removed a feeling from art these days.

I glossed over the acting when mentioning the tangible pros of the film. However, it seems inadequate to leave these areas untouched. The acting was simply stupendous. Nothing short of brilliant. As many film critiques have remarked DiCaprio is truly one of, if not the, greatest actor of this era. He slides between comical and depressed seamlessly throughout his performance, telling a vivid emotional tale of a struggling actor in the Hollywood 60’s. He is in a fortunate cast accompanied by his emotional stabilizer Brad Pitt. Pitt does a phenomenal job playing the role as a supporting lead, complementing the rollercoaster of DiCaprio’s character with his smooth steadiness. Parallel to the duo throughout the film is Sharon Tate played by Margot Robbie, who convincingly builds her character with little screen-time and lines. In total, the cast was well chosen and quite remarkable.

Clearly, I enjoyed the film. However, I still do not regard it in the same echelon as Pulp Fiction. For one reason Pulp Fiction is an incredible film, which set the trend for an entire decade of movies. It was nothing short of brilliant and hard to surpass. Nothing in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood seems wrong to me. Nothing is out of place or unnecessary. It simply is not iconic. No scenes will be in the forefront of my mind, ready for comparison with future films. The tenth, and likely final, Tarantino film will be compared with Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, and Pulp Fiction. While unique, nothing of the film stood out enough to persist into future thought.

All this being said, I believe the film is quite enjoyable and thought provoking. I would recommend it to someone who has enjoyed other Tarantino films.

My Film Rating: 8 / 10

– Daniel Nichols