Film And Movies

What Went Wrong With… Once Upon A Time In Hollywood?

A review of Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is one of the most overrated films in recent years and it’s made by the most overrated director of our time. As all the posters and trailers state, this is Quentin Tarantino‘s 9th film (it’s his 10th if you include his Grindhouse double feature with Robert Rodriguez but who’s really counting apart from his geeky fanboys)? Once Upon A Time… is about a fictitious B-movie actor named Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman chum Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt) who piss around on the peripheries of the non-fictitious Manson Family and their most famous victim, actor Sharon Tate. SPOILER ALERT! In an Inglorious Basterds-esque way, this film rewrites history but unlike the death of Adolf Hitler, nobody was fantasising about the star of Valley Of The Dolls surviving her murder. This movie doesn’t explore what the world, or the entertainment world would be like if Sharon Tate had survived, and the fact that an imaginary actor then speaks to her and meets her during the final scene, nothing is achieved but the confusion of the audience. Once the credits roll, you’re left thinking “why?”. This movie could have satirised the idea that if B-movie actors were involved with a high-profile murder, they wouldn’t have received the same amount of attention as the A-list celebrities did, but it doesn’t. The plot feels very disconnected and purposeless and because this changing of history doesn’t seem to have a bona fide reason, as an audience member you’re left feeling puzzled and bored in equal measure.

Once Upon A Time… comes across as a film made by a waning talent trying to recapture what made his first few movies special: there’s violence whilst old-school music plays, some unneeded racism, jump-cuts in arbitrary places, and titles in random scenes – great – but wasn’t a Tarantino movie more than just movie-by-numbers? I’m not a fan of the guy but even I would agree that Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were refreshing and genre-defining. Beyond those two movies, Tarantino’s filmography has gotten progressively worse and it’s pointless to count how far along he’s come unless you’re charting his decline. Yes, this is his “9th film” but it’s arguably Q.T.’s worst flick to date. The film is so poor that I can’t be arsed writing an in-depth essay about it. It’s so sloppy, that I wonder how much effort Quentin put into making it. I think it’s apt therefore, that I put a similar amount of energy into reviewing it. Here’s all the problems that I noticed whilst enduring this 161 minute crapfest…

  • Why the hell is Kurt Russell (or his character) narrating?

  • If Cliff Booth has killed his wife, why is he the hero? A hero who goes on to beat and kill other women by the end of the film. Woo-hoo, look at him smashing women’s faces into walls and floors, what a good guy he is!

  • Why did Cliff’s wife refer to her “sister Natalie” when she’s on the boat? Was that a reference to Natalie Wood who was also murdered (allegedly) on a boat? If it was, what was the point?

  • Why does Rick Dalton have a major coughing-fit midway through the film? What was the point of that? The way it was directed, I was expecting him to be diagnosed with lung cancer. And was there any reason to Rick stuttering?

  • Why does Sharon Tate go to see her own movie at the cinema? The scene adds nothing to the plot or character.

  • Why use real footage from The Wrecking Crew when you can plainly see the difference between the real Sharon Tate and actor Margot Robbie? What is this: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile?

  • Why are there multiple cuts in the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio and Timothy Olyphant converse on set? To show that the conversation was too long? Maybe Tarantino should have edited the entire film that way.

  • Why is there a giant location title for the “Playboy Mansion” when there aren’t any titles for other locations?

  • Why is there a smaller title telling us who Steve McQueen and his two pals are? There’s no titles telling us who other people such as Mama Cass are? Is this because the actor who plays McQueen looks nothing like him?

  • Why is Charles Manson wearing black contact lenses?

  • Why is Sadie played by an actor who has Asian features (Mikey Madison)? Actually, why doesn’t anybody look like the real-life person they’re playing?

  • Is the character of Rick “has-been” Dalton supposed to mirror Leonardo DiCaprio in the same way that Samuel L. Jackson played a house negro in Django? Or is a declining film career a comment about Quentin Tarantino himself?

  • What’s the point in the “ping” noise and an arrow pointing to Cliff when the car jumps the bridge?

  • When zooming into the various posters of Rick’s movies, why does one of the posters widen instead of increase in scale?

  • What was the “Don’t cry near Mexicans” line all about?

  • Why are there so many female feet on show (on the backs of chairs, on dashboards)? Does Tarantino have a foot fetish?

  • Why is Bruce Lee shown as a cocky, mouthy twat? Why not show the white actors and directors as different from their real-life personas?

Adding to this last point, why demonise the one ethnic minority but do the reverse with some of the white characters? For instance, Spahn Ranch owner George is played by Bruce Dern and he’s depicted as an old, blind man who is being taken advantage of. In reality, it was arguably the other way around: he was only letting The Family stay at his ranch because of sexual favours he received from the (young) females. He was basically a skinny Harvey Weinstein of the ranch-world. Similar to Leonardo DiCaprio and Don Johnson in Django Unchained, Bruce Dern is likeable so casting him as George Spahn changes history (or at least opinion) to favour white people of the past.

With black people making some progress in Hollywood with a string of blockbusters including huge comic-book-actioners and Oscar-winning horrors, I wonder if Tarantino decided to tone down his usual anti-black bullshit and move over to other races? There isn’t a single utterance of “nigger” in this entire movie which is strange given how many there’ve been in films 1 through 8. We now have anti-Asian character-assassination, some anti-Mexican slurs including the word “Beaner” when Rick is improvising a scene, as well as various anti-Polish jibes. So is this so-called “realism” again? His fans usually say “that’s how people spoke then” but in a film set in the 1960s, there’s no N-word at all which is completely unrealistic. This proves that Tarantino is not only a racist but also that he’s a sellout, not to mention a one-trick-pony.

These aren’t the only issues. The soundtrack is a complete mess, for instance, “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” (which mentions an “August night”) isn’t played in August when Sharon Tate is killed, it’s played much earlier. The placement of the song made more sense in the trailer.

Given that the plot revolves around Charles Manson’s cult, what Tarantino doesn’t seem to care about as he changes the past, is that Manson’s “Helter Skelter” was a plot concocted to instigate a race war but in this movie, the three killers decide to “kill people who taught them to kill” (paraphrasing) which makes no sense at all. Why did they say “Pig” when they chose to invade the home of a B-movie has-been? It makes even less sense than what actually happened. The only person who is capable of starting a race-war on the set of this movie is Tarantino himself and given that 99% of critics overrate his films regardless of merit, Quentin is himself a Hollywood cult leader.

So is there anything positive about this film? Well, the main actors are all generally likeable but none of them are really tested here. Critics have lauded DiCaprio and Pitt but Leo isn’t doing a Gilbert Grape and Brad looks completely bored. Dakota Fanning is the person who stands out for me, her scene is so good that it feels at odds with the the rest of the picture. Alongside irritating prats such as Lena Dunham and a gaggle of annoying millennials pretending to be young hippies (unsuccessfully), Fanning sticks out like Michael Parks did in Kill Bill; an underrated and underused talent.

This movie basically charts the career decline of someone who never existed alongside rewriting events surrounding a forgotten actor. That being the case, how the fuck is this movie a “Love Letter To Hollywood” as some daft critic has written (and which has been plastered all over billboards and on the sides of buses)? Once Upon A Time… isn’t a love letter to anything. It feels like Tarantino picked characters, locations, and scenes out of a hat. It doesn’t come together at any point to form a coherent storyline. And is it a comedy, is it a drama? It’s not exactly amusing, tense, action-packed, or emotion-charged. It’s just a dull, overly-long, mess of a film. Once Upon is also unskilful in places. You can plainly see Brad Pitt’s stunt double when he jumps onto the roof to fix the TV aerial. The fact that Cliff Booth needs a stuntman is ironic and the fact that the audience can see his face is amateurish. The whole experience felt completely disappointing and pointless.

Speaking of pointless, here’s my idea for a movie: picture a hyperactive, odd-looking, nerdy, 10 year-old boy with a giant forehead wearing nothing but a Western gun holster shooting his cap gun into the air whilst he repetitively and seemingly uncontrollably shouts “nigger” like a Tourettes sufferer. This boy who is called Quentin Tarantino runs around in the front room with his arse-out whilst his mother is in the back bedroom banging Wilt Chamberlain as the rest of the Lakers queue outside her bedroom door. Does that sound like a good opener to a semi-fictitious movie where history is slightly changed for some unknown purpose? If you’re thinking to yourself, “that’s senseless”, then you’re feeling exactly like the audience of Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood; nonplussed.

I’m still waiting for Quentin Tarantino to stay true to his words and bow-out of the movie business at age 60. The fucker is 56 (although he looks much older – time hasn’t been kind) and his own prophecy is slowly coming to fruition. Q.T.’s films are becoming crapper the older he gets. Can this racist hack just retire already?


Writing: 3/10

Directing: 2/10

Acting: 5/10

Overall: 4/10

14 replies »

  1. I was WAITING for this review. Why does everybody lose their shit whenever Quentin Tarantino releases a film? I don’t mean to sound ageist here but his movies were so much better when he was young.

  2. Saw this tiresome anti-movie last night after vowing to give Trannytino ONE last try. If this schistosome is America’s preeminent film maker, this country is in even worse shape than I thought. The more I reflect on Once Upon a Time, the more abysmal the whole production becomes. Great review, btw, though no one seems to have gotten around to mentioning the crappy yellow film stock, doubtless employed as “a heartfelt love letter to a Hollywood gone by” though to my eye, it looks more like dopey Quintron forgot to bring the dailys in from a thunderstorm and let the final print moulder in the Southern California heat.

    What a dumb bunch of shit.

    • This review is perfect. The movie plays like a variety show where all the skits center around a common theme but are still wildly disconnected. I was shocked at how poorly made and developed this was while receiving all kinds of praise. The writer’s points about identifying some figures and locations and not others helps illustrate this. The film lacks consistency. Additionally, QT seems like he is a step away from Weinstein at this point. Enough with the feet and beating up women.

  3. “Does Tarantino have a foot fetish?”
    What kind of question is that? It is not a secret at all.

  4. Frankly, I don’t understand why any of Tarantino’s movies are well-regarded, including Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. I guess with these two films, the non-linear structure appealed to movie-goers. But that structure has been used plenty of times in literature and in European movies. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was quite awful, maybe as bad as Django Unchained. The plot was too meandering, and I found the story just dull.

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