This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Cole Duffy’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Dad really wanted to see this, so my first viewing ended up being *not* in 35mm at the Coolidge like I was hoping, but rather in the second row from the front of the screen at an AMC. That being said:
It's the best film Tarantino's made since Jackie Brown, a lovely and intimate tribute to a world that no longer exists. Now...spoilers, because we're going to get into some things. First, a matter of structure. The first and second acts involve two long days where there's a deliberate lack of plot, and instead we just spend time fully immersed in the world of Rick, Cliff, and Sharon. Then, at the end of the third day, there's a sudden and quick outburst of violence that rocks the world of the characters to its very foundation. Tarantino's a self-professed cinephile, but I never thought I'd see the day where he'd fabricate the structure of one of his films *not* from a Spaghetti Western or a martial arts picture, but from something else entirely: Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles. Now THAT's the kind of cinephilia I love. There's probably at least a solid half hour of this movie that's dedicated to nothing but cars driving, and I wanted to see even more of that.
Now, about Sharon Tate. This was the aspect of the film that was always bound to cause controversy and provoke discourse, and rightfully so, given the different women characters of Tarantino's career. So imagine my pleasant surprise in how he avoided the usual trappings of her horrible real-life fate and instead rewrote history to give her the ability to just be a normal person. Margot Robbie truly shines in the role, creating a humanistic figure out of someone who could've just been put on a pedestal and admired (which Tarantino does try to do at some points, but Robbie's performance just won't allow it). By letting her be a real, genuine character and by shoving Charles Manson to the side (save for one scene, and I have to say: Damon Herriman looks so much like him that you could feel the audience collectively hold their breath in fear), it's a tribute that never crosses over into distasteful tackiness or vulgar exploitation.
In many ways, Tarantino has finally grown the hell up. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is by far the most intelligent, emotionally mature film he's ever made. There's one scene in particular that makes this clear. Right before the Manson family heads over to the Dalton home, the girls argue in the car and are mistreated and threatened by Tex, the only man present. It's a small detail, but Tarantino recognizing that even despicable women like the Manson girls were victims of abuse from the men they put their trust in honestly made me sit up in seat. Yes, horrible, wicked people, but they didn't start that way. There's a reason why one of them flees with the car before the murder attempt. Of course, Tarantino's woman issues will always be there, but he's finally maturing. here's a river of warm humanity running through the film, even for the characters it takes time to mock, such as Bruce Lee - who gets some warm and humanizing moments despite his one big scene making him look like an asshole. I'm too exhausted to talk about the film's politics, so let's save that for a rewatch.
And I haven't even gotten to Rick and Cliff yet. Both Leo and Brad are in top form, turning in arguably their best performances of the decade as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, respectively. They balance each other out and create a truly beautiful friendship, the kind that we all aspire to have with someone. All these characters are set against some of the best production design you'll see all year, and the combination of the sets, the costumes, and the score vividly recreates 1969 for a melancholy two and a half hours. And it is quite melancholy and wistful; a perfect mix of happiness and sadness, about days lone gone and people who were cruelly taken from this world.
So, in a way, it's the saddest film of Tarantino's career, in addition to being the most humane. And if that's not a sign of a man looking back on his life, owning up to his past mistakes, and mourning for the ones that he's lost (there's a really fascinating connection between the third act's revisionism and Sally Menke that's buried deep, to the point where I don't think even Tarantino recognizes it), I don't know what is.
It's not 1969 anymore, and it will never be 1969 again.