Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
QT's determination to climb the auteur mountain, and possibly die on its peak as one of the last, truly successful """film makers""" existing within the Hollywood apparatus has always been a fascinating journey to me. The man himself, that nervous ball of energy that can name every Sergio Corbucci spaghetti western between 1972-1978 and who also always seems to be on the verge of saying or doing something that would end his career, (think the Weinstein connection, his divisive interviews, and that dastardly foot fetish) doesnt have many bridges left unburned in the public eye unfotunately.
I'm usually one who is able to separate art and artist as individual entities. The natural catharsis unique to the movie making process to me can absolve certain behavior or expose it for what it is in a public forum. It's harder to separate the art and artist in Tarantino's case because his art is him. They cause the same reactions, and they think and act the same. This merging is not unique to QT, there are many others, but its unique when looking at Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the reaction (or non reaction) it got.
The film came and went and I've personally heard varying reactions ranging from the shittiest of shit, to "one of Tarantinos worst", its mediocre, or even one of the best films of last year. What nobody seemed to notice as it went by was that Tarantino made his most thoughtful, meaningful, and self reflective film to date. It's less Django and more Jackie Brown and I think that's Tarantino at his best. Even more interestingly, Once Upon a Time not only reflects on Tarantinos influences but also reflects on the current state of cinema, and Tarantinos place in it, if he even belongs there at all.
In this meta world, the world Tarantino has created and wants to live in, the stunt doubles and the forgotten actors of Hollywood Past are the movie stars; complete with their own issues and sordid backstories like we see right now. (He killed his fucking wife. A very extreme metacognition derived from MeToo and "misconduct" allegations) And yet, Tarantino allows Cliff Booth to be the undisputed hero of the film despite glaring character flaws. Why? Because he's Brad Pitt. We all love Brad Pitt. QT loves that we love Brad Pitt and manipulates us for it by giving him a cinematic redemption arc that surely would not have happened otherwise. Tarantino is intervening in Cliff Booth's life like he does in the fictionalized Sharon Tates; almost like the omnipotent ruler of this universe. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is existing in two realities simultaneously with the way it handles its history. Theres the world of the film and the world of cinema in real life. Pitt and DiCaprio arent just playing Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton they're also playing quasi self aware versions of themselves. The same way Margot Robbie is less a stone cold cut and dry portrayal of Tate and more like an aloof, heightened version of an idealized Tate. Their performances are top notch in this regard. Tarantino is fully aware of his lead performers status and inverts reality to fit his meta thesis. The character actors are now the stars, and the A-listers are now the character actors. QT grew up watching serialized shows like Bounty Law and F.B.I and no doubt followed the career paths of their struggling character actors as they hopped from show to show in the booming golden era of tv. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is their movie. Tarantino has stripped away almost all of the glitz and bombacity of his cinematic language to tell an intimate story of redemption and purpose within a rapidly changing industry.
In a lot of ways, the Sharon Tate murder was the bookend for a generation of Hollywood that hid its secrets in the shadows and in casting couch auditions. Now the ugliness of Hollywood was in full view of the world. There is no better reflection of this change than cinema of the 80's; An era of sex, drugs, and ultraviolence. Speaking on violence, which Tarantino used to basically make a name for himself with Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs (+ furthered the exploits in Django or Kill Bill) it's used sparingly but effectively in Once Upon a Time. Tarantino directly mocks the critics of his violence, especially women like Jan from the infamous Kill Bill interview. This is one of the many ways Tarantino weaponizes his film against critics of his work; he is basically taunting them at this point. Its brazen, some would say immature, but what saves the film from being a low form of pettiness in that regard is the passionate way in which Tarantino pleads to the audience that what he is trying to preserve is worth defending.
The ugliness of the world eventually infects everything, even the things you love and cherish. Tarantino sat in front of a tube tv on shag carpet somewhere in the 70's as a young boy and had his life changed by the Hollywood he saw on the screen. It was pure and untouchable. As Hollywood started to change he saw himself a defender of the old guard. The old way of doing things and making films. (on film no less) Whether you like him or not, Tarantino has a voice and a style. He is unafraid to say something off color or make people cringe, and he has the balls to try and make people laugh at someone being beaten to death by a stationary telephone or lit ablaze by a flamethrower in a swikmimg pool.
Once a certain generation of film makers are gone, who will tell the stories of people like Rick Dalton? Who will be around to show audiences what cruising down Sunset Boulevard in a top down Volkswagon in 1969 looks and feels like? The driving scenes alone are laced with this nostalgic power that begs to be preserved in an untouchable capsule for the rest of time where those damn hippies cant ever taint it.
Who else has the audacity to save Sharon Tate from certain death in their film world? Who has the stones to take that brutality and give it to those who deserved it more? It's a level of justice that can only be accomplished in mediums like film and by film makers like Quentin Tarantino. The final act is QT quite literally saving Hollywood and preserving the Golden Age for no one knows how long. Maybe forever?
Maybe he is saving Hollywood for himself. Its entirely possible he is doing it selfishly. But for those of us who cant shake this feeling that things were better before they weren't, he is saving it for us too.