Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Is Not About What You Think It’s About

by Tito W. James

[**Warning: Significant Spoilers for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood below!!]

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was speculated to be a period piece film about the murder of Sharon Tate by Charles Manson’s cult. While Tate is featured in the film and Manson does make a cameo, this film does not depict the murder of Sharon Tate.

Instead, audiences follow the antics of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) a failing cowboy actor and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and their final attempt to achieve success in a Hollywood that no longer wants to produce Westerns.

I’d hoped that Quentin Tarantino’s latest film would be a nice break from Hollywood’s current trend of nostalgic cash-grabs. However, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is simply catering to a different type of nostalgia.

I will give the film credit for some creativity. The sound design is superb. There’s very little film score, but instead we hear an assemblage of radio commercials that strike the right emotional tone for the scene. Tarantino has also created a meta-Western with the actors playing out scenes on a set, watching themselves on screen, and then encountering dangers in reality.

But this meta-narrative undercuts most of the tension in the film. The rule of “If you die in the Matrix, you die in reality” does not apply. So instead of the audience being treated to scenes of spectacle we are simply watching the film’s characters watch movies about themselves playing other characters.

There are some really great characters who never get enough screen time: Roman Polanski, Bruce Lee, Sharon Tate, and Charles Manson are barely in the film and do very little to impact the paper-thin plot. The film concludes just as things are starting to get interesting, and for a movie that lasts over two and a half hours, that’s not a good sign.

I’ve greatly enjoyed Tarantino’s past works like Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. From that, I’ve grown to expect a slower burn with a big payoff. But Once Upon A Time In Hollywood wasn’t really a story so much as a two-hour montage. Hopefully, Tarantino’s R-rated Star Trek film will be more entertaining.

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