“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” – a film by Tarantino completely filled with love for cinema

Tarantino seems unwilling to bid farewell to bygone times, wanting that world, those actors, and that atmosphere to return.


4 March 2024

Quentin Tarantino has built such a position over the years that he can effectively realize any script. He doesn’t shoot much, he likes to change genres, sometimes even within one film, and he also doesn’t shy away from depicting graphic violence on screen, with brutality often wrapped in a grotesque coating. Therefore, when he announced that his next (penultimate, as he claims) project would revolve around the tragic death of Sharon Tate at the hands of Charles Manson’s cult members, I wondered – how will the director approach such a delicate subject?

“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is quite an atypical film for Tarantino. It immediately stands out with its slow pace and a lack of a coherent plot. While there’s supposedly a story about a fading actor, Rick Dalton (played excellently by Leonardo DiCaprio), who tries to find his place on the sets of films and TV shows during the passing Golden Age of Hollywood, supported by his stunt double and friend Cliff Booth (equally great portrayal by Brad Pitt), ultimately, it’s just a pretext for a nostalgic journey into the Land of Dreams entering a new decade – where seventies westerns and epic yet quite optimistic war movies make way for gritty and brutal crime dramas, Vietnam disillusionment finds its outlet, and later, the Nixon presidency. The characters travel from place to place, the camera leisurely follows them, showing sunny California to the rhythm of the radio playing in the background, dripping with nostalgia. Famous personalities occasionally appear in the frame – Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee (in a rather amusing cameo), or Roman Polanski (who has only one line). While Cliff seems reconciled with life and generally content, Rick struggles to make a comeback.

once upon a time in hollywood

Amidst this slow-paced, nostalgic mix, there are standout scenes, such as Cliff’s tension-filled visit to the ranch where Manson’s cult resides, or the moment when Marvin Schwarz (played by Al Pacino) explains to Rick what is happening with his career.

The film ventures into entirely different territory in its final act, which unfolds on the night of Tate’s murder. The entire sequence starts with (again!) a slow depiction of various neon signs lighting up. The night falls, the residents of Los Angeles prepare for a pleasant evening, and the narrator (Kurt Russell) comments from off-screen on Sharon Tate’s actions as she visits a restaurant with her friends, as well as on Cliff and Rick, also relaxing in some bar. Seemingly nothing significant is happening, but with every passing moment, we feel the tension mounting. We know that a storm is coming.

“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is a film brimming with love for cinema, almost a fairy tale, as the director suggests through the title itself. Tarantino seems unwilling to bid farewell to bygone times, wanting that world, those actors, and that atmosphere to return. He doesn’t want them to be symbolically ended by a heinous crime that resonated not only in the world of film. The scenes set in the tragic night are practically the only instances where the director’s characteristic brutality appears. Additionally, in contrast to the earlier idyllic vision of a joyful, sunny Los Angeles, the final act unfolds in darkness, showing a bloody massacre (albeit not devoid of grotesque elements). Yet, there’s a sense of “historical justice” resonating through it, and the film’s culminating scene almost unfolds on a metaphysical plane, evoking a kind of catharsis. A very bold and surprisingly mature move.

once upon a time in hollywood

Despite being somewhat different from Tarantino’s previous works, I definitely enjoyed the film. However, it’s necessary to have some knowledge of the times it portrays. Then the enjoyment of the screening is greater, and the message much stronger. I believe I will return to “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” because I also wish events unfolded as the director presented them. After all, we all love fairy tales, don’t we?

Written by Piotr Zymelka



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