Once Upon A Time In
"A FILM REVIEW WITH SPOILERS"
- A Narada
Produced, Directed, Written by Quentin Tarantino
How would a producer / director / writer dare take a collection of already great actors, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino, Bruce Dern, and rising stars like Margaret Qualley and Julia Butters and put them in a non-starter (read, 'non-finisher') film? Just ask Quentin Tarantino.
Viewing film is all about expectations. When one buys the ticket and sees a cast such as this, one can be confident the film will be enjoyable, regardless... Right?. -Nope. When one pays good money to sit in an air conditioned theater for 3 hours, one of the visceral expectations is that there will be a semblance of 'story' - or, at a minimum, something the director wants to 'say'. A filmgoer reasonably expects a beginning, or a segue into one, a middle - and an end.
There was, however, no story - just a promise of one. Actually a promise of several stories. About Hollywood. There was the promise of a story of a B-List cowboy actor and his friend, a stunt man. But the promise leads nowhere - we just somehow arrive at the end of the film and the credits scroll up... Then there was the promise of a story about Sharon Tate's life and times. Nope, nothing happens at the end, the film just fades into a made-up fable... And then, there was a promise of the story of Roman Polanski, but alas, this was all about 'name-dropping', hoping to add flavor to a terminally flavorless film... Finally, there was the promise of the story of Charles Manson and the 'Manson Family' - but, nope, again - nothing even close to that story - a story, which in real life, was one of the biggest, most significant stories of the decade.
Then, to frost that plain-vanilla non-film with a slathering of icing designed solely to pander to the Oscar Nominations Committee (who will surely remember those Southern California times from their misspent youth), Tarantino spattered the film with late 60's Hollywood and 'Valley' kitsch and other nostalgia-inducing scenes and dialog - and of course, music from that era. (And even here, he falls down, often using re-recordings of those songs, and not the originals we remember.)
Even then Tarantino must have realized the film couldn't carry the day - so what to be done? Oh, yes, revert to the tried and tired bloody shootem-up finale, specifically, one that contradicts history : adding in a (phoney) flame-thrower and a pit-bull going for the testicles for good measure... Starting to sound familiar, Tarantino fans? (Loved the pit bull, though..)
If there was a saving grace to the movie at all, it was DiCaprio's Apple Cigarette (Red Apple) commercial that was, for some inexplicable reason, cut from the main film. Talking with friends after the film, every one of them had already walked out of the theater before it was shown (at the end of the main credits). Their loss... it was the best the film had to offer - a real 'keeper'.
As a footnote, I saw the film big screen / Dolby at SFX at Central Rama 9, with a Thai audience. The Thai audience was even more disappointed than I (the only source of disappointment is unrealistic expectations, as they say...). Thais are big DiCaprio and Brad Pitt fans. When they saw the title, 'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood' they expected to see grand Beverly Hills mansions with famous producers hosting even grander cocktail and champagne dinners, Oscar premiers where famous actors and actresses of the past would appear on red carpets dressed to the nines... famous movie star romances of the past... Nope, none of that. Just more disappointment - and questions about those things they found, rightfully, hard to believe.