Well, ladies and gentleman here we are. Tarantino has finally hit a wall.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was one of the most highly anticipated films of the year for me (and most of the country) but Tarantino managed to do something he hasn’t done in his career quite yet; give us a completely underwhelming and frustrating film.
Once Upon a Time plays out like a dream that traverses through the Golden Age of Hollywood’s final days, and for any and all cinephiles or classic film fans there are plenty of fun little references to crack a smile to, but for the regular movie-goer, I can’t imagine those nods will do much in way of saving this film.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, an actor and his stuntman, respectively… And that’s about it. The film takes place around the Manson Murders in 1969, but isn’t necessarily about them, which is fine. However, there’s no other story or plotline to lead this film whatsoever. It’s simply a series of self-indulgent episodes that lead absolutely nowhere. Now, this isn’t a complaint against films lacking in plot, after all Easy Rider is one of my favorite films of all time and it famously lacked any true form of plot and relied heavily on being led by its characters. However, Easy Rider at least made us care about these characters and showed them striving for something in life. Once Upon a Time, on the other hand, gives us some paper-thin characters that don’t seem to have any kind of personal arc whatsoever. They’re simply selling points to get people in the seats.
Now, this is no bash on the performances by any means. Leo and Pitt give phenomenal performances and both Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are some of the best characters in the Tarantino universe. In fact, most of the characters in this film are fantastic, which is why it’s so disappointing to see them in such a shitty movie. \
For 2 hours and 15 minutes we’re given scene after random scene, none of which really building off of each other. Every scene that plays slowly builds giving us this excitement that something is finally going to happen, until it proves that it means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. One particular scene where Pitt’s character Cliff is mentioned to have killed his wife and gotten away with is literally never brought up once more the entire film. All I have to say is, you are more than free to take a bathroom break at any point because I promise you will not miss a thing… If only I knew that before almost pissing my pants waiting for something to finally happen in the movie.
However, things finally do get a little exciting and the film gets a second wind when we finally get to the dreaded weekend of August 9, 1969 where Sharon Tate was famously murdered by the drug-crazed Manson family. Now, I won’t dare spoil the third act of this film, because it’s literally the only real solid aspect of this film, but it finally brings the audience into the story for the first time in nearly 2 and a half hours. In fact, the final 30 minutes of this film could have been released as a short film and would have been wayyy more effective than the 2-hour 45-minute mess he gave us.
At the end of the day, Tarantino made this film for nobody else but himself, and he has the right to do so. He’s proven himself as a not only a capable, but a wildly successful director who’s made tons of money for everyone who’s ever worked with him. For that, he can do whatever he damn well pleases. But, he can’t possibly expect audiences to sit through this and appreciate it compared to the rest of his filmography. Or maybe he does.
Plenty of reviews are praising Once Upon a Time as one of Tarantino’s great works and an immediate classic, which leads me to believe that Tarantino is essentially just the Drake of cinema. Where Drake could release a blank CD and go platinum, Tarantino has proven he can release an excruciatingly boring film bordering on 3 hours and already be in talks for an Oscar.
— Tristan Chandra