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Honest Review of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Tarantino’s ode to Tinseltown

  • Published at 08:10 pm September 14th, 2019
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
One of the official posters of Quentin Tarantino's ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood | IMDb

Critics were claiming that this film is the most 'Tarantino-esque' of all Quentin Tarantino’s films, yet it seemed the least

Whether you are a Quentin Tarantino fan or not, we were all waiting for it. Tarantino’s ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood which allegedly received the longest standing ovation (seven minutes) at last year's Cannes Film Festival. In reality it was Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth which received the longest (22-minutes-long) standing ovation, and Tarantino’s seven minutes does not even make the top 15 list. Fake news aside the film is currently run in two multiplexes in the capital: Blockbuster and Star Cineplex. Movie enthusiasts of the city rushed in flocks to their nearest multiplex to enjoy the quintessential filmmaker’s hyped film which features Leonardo Di Caprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, and Margot Robbie. 

I also went to see the film last week, and most importantly to understand what all the hype was about. I bought a ticket for the morning show on a Monday at Bashundhara City’s Star Cineplex. To my surprise the theatre was almost 50% full on a work day, though the film was on its fourth week running in Dhaka. A couple behind me were talking about how excited they were when they came to see it for the second time. So, I got my hopes high, and thought, all those positive reviews by film critics around the world were right. Sadly no. The couple behind me, the long standing ovation at Cannes, and all the positive reviews seemed very wrong to me. Critics were claiming that this film is the most “Tarantino-esque” of all Quentin Tarantino’s films, yet it was the least.

The film is set in the 60’s Hollywood, and shot by legendary cinematographer Robert Richardson which was of course a treat for the eyes. Yet the whole film had an overall misogynistic treatment to it, which is very unlike Tarantino as most of his previous films always had strong, and dynamic female characters. It was not quite clear for the average audience that all of this was a very elaborate dark humour by the director which is problematic for me. 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood revolves around popular Hollywood actor Rick Dalton (Caprio) and his friend, and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt). Booth currently drives Dalton around Los Angeles, and struggles to find film work since he is rumored to have murdered his own wife. Acclaimed director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), and his newly married wife, then popular actor Sharon Tate (Robbie), moves into the house next door to Dalton's, and the film gives us a series of glimpses through each of the characters’ personal life.

The film tries to establish the life of 60’s Hollywood with Westerns, Playboy Mansion, the infamous psychopath and serial killer Charles Manson, and his Family, Bruce Lee and everything else in between. But two thirds of the 2 hour 40 minutes long film just did not remind us of the strong writing skills of Tarantino. Except for the final few minutes of action sequence, the film did not feel “Tarantino-esque” at all.

The only thing it was accurate about are the sights, and sounds of the 60’s Hollywood, and how women were treated both inside, and outside the industry during that time period. Even Sharon Tate (Robbie) was nothing but a “blonde girl” stereotype both in her films, and outside of it.

Audience members who are updated with the media industry know that Tarantino is a strong advocate of women empowerment. This is the first Tarantino film not distributed by Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax, as the filmmaker had cut ties following the sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein on October 2017. So he is clearly not mocking the #MeToo movement era, rather the society which it is built on.

The problematic aspect is, an average audience in the far corners of the world do not know about Tarantino’s socio-political stance, and they will misread a lot of elements in the film. Then why did Tarantino make a film that stereotypes women in such a harsh tone in the 2018-19, given the era of the #MeToo movement. Or is it part of a darker twisted joke by the great filmmaker, with hidden Easter eggs, which will be revealed by hardcore Tarantino enthusiasts years later. Whatever might have been the real message behind all of this, one thing is certain: much of the 60’s Hollywood recreated by the auteur in Los Angeles will amaze the audience. From the shooting sets to neon signs to Mexican restaurants to the Hollywood hills; every sequence of the film, and all of it altogether is Tarantino's love letter to Hollywood, and that era.