Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

For a film with a murderous cult looming in the corners, this is surprisingly Tarantino's most pleasant film. It's also simultaneously his loosest and most restrained. There aren't any grandiose, operatic monologues or virtuosic sequences; everything is remarkably grounded and scenes get more than enough room to breathe. Many will probably be disappointed by the lack of momentum, tension, narrative complexity, or sharp structure and pacing, but as someone who prefers Tarantino's extensive meandering and delaying the impending violence until we're questioning whether it'll ever come, I quite liked Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

This is the work of a filmmaker exploring new territory and taking his time, which will surely alienate those thirsting for the blood-soaked celluloid Tarantino has maintained a reputation for. I've already seen some say the third act is their favorite part of Hollywood, but I definitely don't share the same sentiment, though I think Tarantino's last few films all have lackluster finales that jarringly pivot toward an obligatory climax and focus on wrapping up the narrative; c'est la vie with Tarantino, I suppose. But before the film gets to the inevitable, there's plenty to enjoy here. Without a real sense of narrative urgency, I found myself appreciating the way he just basks in the atmosphere of the era and lets his characters freely move through his recreation of New Hollywood.

The performances are fantastic across the board, the production design is immersive, and we see get to see Tarantino operating in a relatively new mode. I see why many would walk away disappointed, but even though it's far from my favorite film of his, I was captivated from start to finish.

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