Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

Tarantino is a director whose work unabashedly leans on self-gratifying pastiche, with a career populated by free-flowing fantasias cut from the same cloth as the beloved genre films of his youth, famously unrestrained in the use gratuitous violence and racial slurs whilst celebrating the physicality of the film medium and the incomparable joys of the cinema experience. The Hateful Eight marked a surprising upturn in formalism for the celebrity filmmaker whilst crucially also not shying away from these hallmarks and it's this tightening of craftsmanship that is only more apparent and self-assured in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, which may well be his most mature, focused and accomplished work yet.

If The Irishman is Scorsese taking stock to reflect on his long life and career, then perhaps this film is Tarantino, who may also be nearing the end of his career, doing something similar by taking a rather sobering, unglamorous look back at this specific time and place in American history. Most startling is the confidence and faith placed in the characters of this narratively lackadaisical period piece, which unfolds as a majestic tableau of interconnected stories—immaculately assembled and realised but without ever over-fetishising the milieu in which it takes place, this is a film where we the audience must work to find the real, deeper pleasures that it has to offer. Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are two protagonists whose company I enjoyed more so than any other QT characters, they felt like real friends with shared history and by isolating their most personal, introspective moments we become privy to who they really are as people.

Without going into spoilers, there's a moment in the latter stages where the cartoonish, puerile Tarantino that we all know emerges, as though a light switch had been suddenly flicked on and I'd be lying if I said my heart didn't sink a little at the thought that everything so far in this refreshingly subdued film could be for nothing. I shouldn't have doubted him though because once the excitement had worn off the deception began to make sense and by the time the closing sequence had arrived the thematic intentions began to finally crystallise regarding the end-of-an-era moment the film had been so patiently building up to—cinema is a lie and always has been, but that doesn't mean it can't be a powerful tool to cherish, fondly re-imagine and immortalise the things we've loved, lost and can only retain through the symbology of art.

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