Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★

Tarantino finally surrenders to fanciful nostalgia. Unlike his previous period pieces and genre exercises, homage and satire are buried within a longing for a bygone era. With Inglorious Basterds, he gleefully deconstructed and celebrated the WWII propaganda movie to highlight how film can change history, alter reality, to make people feel better, to lift their spirits in the face of the awful truth. But the manipulation of history in this film seems less socially orientated, more self-serving: the mood of the last act is wishful thinking — this is how it should have happened. And Cinema as an expression of dreams is not necessarily a profound idea, certainly in the prosaic (if typically obsessive) way it is expressed in this film. The reason Margo Robbie’s symbol of the Dream Factory’s glory days has little dialogue is that Tarantino simply does not have much to say from that perspective. So, while there is the usual exemplary costuming and production design, the rich cultural detail of Television’s first golden age, the canny soundtrack and two excellent performances from Pitt and DeCaprio, it is the first Tarantino film that feels like a retreat into a wistful past for its own sake instead of a way of using the magical, reality-altering tools of Cinema to confront the terrible, the horrifying or even just the plain uncomfortable truth. And if that is the way it is going to be, then why bother to continue to make movies at all?

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