(ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD – Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures)
If there’s anything you can say about Quentin Tarantino, it’s that he has a distinct style to his film making, script writing, and storytelling. Whether you like him or hate him, Tarantino’s films have introduced a generation of movie watchers to classic tropes from serialized television and movies of the past. While films like Kill Bill pay homage to cinema history while telling a compelling and gory story of revenge, Tarantino’s new flick seems to focus more on the former while outright ignoring the latter.
Tarantino’s signature cast of eccentric characters is on full display in Once Upon a Time, but what’s seemingly lacking is a meaningful plot worthy of the 2 and change hour run time. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances were stellar, but neither actor could stave off my disappointment as the final tile card appeared and the end credits began to roll. “What had I just watched?” was my first blush reaction, but that was slowly replaced with an inkling that Tarantino had just duped us all into watching the college film he’d always wanted to make, just with an all-star cast of Hollywood royalty.
Witty dialogue, beautiful set pieces, and a compelling sense of tension run throughout, but it’s hard to say a movie can be entirely positive without a point in the end. Once Upon a Time feels like an improvised bedtime story; there are a lot of threads to keep you interested, but the author may not have expected you to stay awake long enough to see the end.
Without spoiling things too much, the ending to Once Upon a Time is more of a satire of a Tarantino film than a love letter. It is the epitome of “angry man yells at clouds,” except this time pointed at young hippies, mostly women, and we are meant to celebrate in their gruesome, violent, and over-the-top-to-the-point-of-it-being-slap-stick murder at the hands of Pitt and Decaprio.
If Tarantino hadn’t done such a good job of setting up the climax, it probably wouldn’t have fallen so flat, but that’s what happens when a famed director gets too caught up in their own auteurship and charges moviegoers to pay $13 to bare witness to his genius.
I have a hard time imagining Tarantino not wanting this response. There’s something incredibly cocky about hiring Margot Robby for a Tarantino film only to show off her feet and entirely waste her talent on screen. There’s something gloriously obnoxious about being led by a thread through an almost 3-hour endeavor only to be told that none of the best parts mattered in the long run.
The worst part of Once Upon is that so many of the ignored or abandoned plot threads were more compelling than what we ended up with. The fate of Cliff’s wife alone was much more interesting than the half-assed violence sideshow that capped off Tarantino’s latest film.
All in all, Once Upon is about as Tarantino as you can get, right up to the “screw you” attitude with which it treats its audience. Yes, we understand that you love old school Hollywood, Mr. Tarantino, but we’d also love a compelling plot to go along with your masturbatory nostalgia trip.