All rise; court is in session. The new “event film” by cinema auteur Quentin Tarantino has hit theaters nationwide and is destined to garner praise and scrutiny for its unapologetically provocative nature. Once Upon a Time.. in Hollywood has opened to over 3,000 theaters domestically, and can be witnessed in pristinely fashioned 35mm film at the Coolidge Corner Theatre for a limited time.
Behind the illustrious visual palate is an artist in peak form; subverting public expectation with a film that contains the evolved self-discernment of a seasoned filmmaker. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie in an ode to 1969 Hollywood and the Golden Age of cinema. Both DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters navigate the landscape of the uncannily revitalized atmosphere that is Hollywood in the late ’60s. They are contemplating their relationships to fame, purpose, and the expanding social climate. Tarantino’s filmography has been defined up to this point by a strikingly unorthodox yet beguiling indulgence into gleeful depravity and an unconventional moral agenda. The naysayers of Tarantino-lore have always emphasized his liberal use of ultra-violent fetishism with a negative connotation; while his defendants have adored him for the same reasons. His latest entry was inevitably targeted from conception but has been met with decidedly less denunciation from the more conservative filmgoers. This is without question an irrefutably polarizing artist whose works have charged endless controversy, boycotts. Yet, he still has a large and fanatical cult following.
Tarantino’s latest exhibition of unequivocal zest and ultra-violent virtue provides the uncommon maturity and insight of a filmmaker in his purest, most self-aware and interpretive form. The film traverses patient and temperately in an intricately lived-in canvas and thoughtfully dissects the artist’s entire body of work with punch-drunk pizzazz. We see him moderate his endearing yet hedonistic tendencies into something that feels more meditative than any of his earlier efforts. The characters feel as elaborately eccentric as ever, but their rapport and involvement feel more refined and grounded. A Tarantino production is always explicated upon the players involved.
DiCaprio and Pitt’s fluid chemistry and nuanced attributes make for one of the most unrivaled pairs in his entire filmography. However, there is a subtext to this dynamic duo, in which the amalgamation of both parties can be elucidated as Tarantino’s survey of self. Dicaprio’s Rick Dalton walks a Freudian tight rope of psychological duality. He labors his inflated ego while attempting to inhibit his eruptive outbursts of sheer insecurity. Pitt’s Cliff Booth, flaunts his aggressive masculinity with problematic pride, acting as the seductively deviant muscle and ultimate hero of the film. Pitt seems to delineate the constant condemnation of Tarantino’s excessive cinematic savagery; while DiCaprio may illustrate his plight as a struggling artist. The two characters harmonize effortlessly, even though Pitt’s Cliff Booth often shatters the integrity of DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton by merely being associated with him. This is a parallel and commentary of the critics who contest Tarantino’s brute sensibilities; when in truth he only longs to be applauded for his artistic vision.
Another avenue worth addressing is Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, and the critically imposed designation of her character being a “pointless role.” I would firmly argue the contrary, in the sense that Robbie’s Tate is more an indicative embodiment than a genuinely sympathetic character. She inhabits the ethos, echoing in the background at all times; fully galvanizing the myth that is Sharon Tate. We, as a culture, don’t truly have an adequate understanding of Sharon Tate as a human being. We more often affiliate her with the conjectural horrors that clothed her in enigmatic infamy. With the pathos and coy enticement of Robbie’s performance; the legend of Sharon Tate is channeled in pure poignancy.
Ultimately, Tarantino acts as judge and jury; appointing his eponymous brand of justice and historical perversion. In a climactic gut-punch, he elects to throw everything he has at the screen, reminding you that you are indeed watching a Quentin Tarantino production. All are packaged to elicit sincere satisfaction and entice even the most ardent pessimist. With Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Tarantino settles on a far more literate and slow-burning endeavor than his usual exploitation pieces; allowing him to amply assess his entire filmography in a perfect book-end to the Tarantino-verse. While this could be his last exhibition, Hollywood proves he’s got a lot left in the tank…
This film is a self-discerning think-piece, in pure Tarantino décor. My Score: 9.3/10