To put it simply, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood was made so Quentin Tarantino could rewrite the Manson murders. At least, that’s what I took from it. The film, for lack of a better description, felt like Tarantino was jacking himself off for the too long run time of two hours and forty one minutes. It’s a completely self-indulgent film. It’s also one that thrusts his well-known foot fetish to the foreground and doesn’t help his argument that he does not, in fact, hate women.
In recent years, I have waged a war with myself in regards to Quentin Tarantino. On one hand, he was a pioneer for independent film and he’s a master at non-linear storytelling. On the other hand, it has been said that he knew about the atrocities committed by Harvey Weinstein and did nothing about them. His films tend to show a deep dislike of women and an uneven amount of lines given to women as opposed to men. In fact, there’s a really well written Time article that looked at Tarantino’s films to see how many lines women had vs men. Even in the film Jackie Brown, where over 50% of the characters are female, females had only 30% of the lines. It’s honestly infuriating. Because of this back and forth with myself, being a lover of film and a woman, it took me nearly a month to see this film in theaters.
As conflicted as I was about seeing this film, I was still excited. I am a lover of true crime and have far too much knowledge of the Manson Family and the crimes they committed in my head. I’m also a lover of 1960s/1970s Hollywood, so this film should have been right up my alley. But, I found myself bored, which was shocking to me. I don’t recall ever being bored watching a film by Quentin Tarantino. And, here I was, wondering when the film would pick up pace or be over. As I mentioned above, the run time is two hours and forty one minutes, and it feels like at least an hour and a half of that was all filler. And, for as cocky as this film felt, it was not easy to distinguish between what was a flashback and what wasn’t. But, Tarantino really wanted to shove in the audience’s face that he loves film and knows film tricks. Cool, buddy.
The underuse of Margo Robbie as Sharon Tate only proved something that I had been worried about previously: that Tarantino was using the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends as a plot device. Given, it is something that he rewrote, but it seemed the whole purpose of even having her or Polansky or Sebring or any of the others as characters in this film was because the audience had an understanding of what was going to happen to them. They knew where the film would be going. It was used as a plot device, regardless of him rewriting history. And that is frustrating.
Whoever hurt Tarantino was clearly a woman, as he seems to let his subconscious be revealed in the climax of this film. The members of the Manson Family who are on their way up Cielo Drive, instead of going to the Tate house, go to the house of fictional character Rick Dalton. They are met by the character Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. Mind you, the main thing we know about this character is that, in the past, he murdered his wife and got away with it. So, enter the Manson Family into Dalton’s house. Cliff beats the hell out of all of them. But, it’s how that is shown that becomes important here. Nearly all violence conflicted on Tex is shown at a distance. Yes, Cliff stomping on Tex’s face several times is incredibly violent. However, unlike the characters of Sadie and Katie, we never get a closeup. We do, however, get closeups of the violence inflicted on both Katie and Sadie. And it is brutal.
Not only is Tarantino problematic, but his film includes some very problematic people. Let’s start with Emile Hirsch. Now, if an actress assaulted and choked a male studio executive to the point of unconsciousness, you’d bet your ass that she’d never work in this town again. But, that is exactly what Emile Hirsch did to Paramount Pictures executive Daniele Bernfeld. How he still has a career is beyond me. Lena Dunham also appears in this picture, and I don’t even know where to begin with how problematic she is as a person. Having these two people in this film pulled me out every single time they were on camera.
I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this film. Do yourselves a favor and, if you must watch a Quentin Tarantino film, rewatch Inglorious Basterds. In my opinion, that was the last truly good film he made anyway.