I could not wait to see this film. I mean, it’s Tarantino for God’s sakes. Whenever he comes out with something, I’m gonna be seeing it. He has one of the most stellar records in Hollywood, his films are just special. What I’ve always loved about his filmography is the excellent storytelling and the incredibly strong performances. Because the writing is always so good, he never has any issue getting A list actors to bring his stories to life. So as I walked into Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I was expecting yet another fantastic story with great performances; well I got great performances.
I’m honestly a little baffled by this film. It’s very different from Tarantino’s previous work and that really threw me as I was watching. What I love the most about his style of filmmaking was missing here: the excellent storytelling. I really was not prepared for how aimless this film ends up being, aimless to the point that when it was all over, I asked: what was the point of all that? I felt really weird because I knew this was sitting at around 85% on Rotten Tomatoes so clearly most people saw something I didn’t. Here’s the thing though: yes, there are great individual things this film has going for it, things the positive reviews mentioned that I agree with, but none of it ever comes together to tell a cohesive story.
Now maybe telling an interesting story wasn’t the goal here, maybe it was as simple as “here’s some characters, let’s follow their lives for a certain period of time.” And I’m cool with that as long as these characters I’m following for 2 hours and 40 minutes are interesting and have something to say. The issue for me was that I really didn’t find these people’s lives that intriguing and constantly felt lost. I also knew going in that this film had something to do with Charles Manson or at least incorporated him and his murders in some way, so I kept waiting on that to be introduced. Well when it finally is introduced, it’s nothing interesting at all, in fact it’s really just an afterthought. I thought that was going to be much more prominent and I really wish it would’ve been because it certainly would’ve been a lot more interesting than focusing on these central characters lives.
Now I do want to be clear… I’m not saying these characters aren’t interesting or that they were portrayed poorly, but they don’t really have arcs and it’s tough to care about what’s happening to them. I mean you can’t get much better than Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. They’re both fantastic actors and give it their all here. This film is full of strong performances, which makes it that much more frustrating that these wonderful actors don’t have too much of a story to work their characters into. I suppose the magnitude of the performances and the skillful direction was enough to put this over the top for a lot of people. While those things are very needed, I also needed there to be a purpose and I missed Tarantino’s storytelling so much. I could just feel this hole missing as I watched, thinking wow this thing just does not care does it? Structure, character arcs and storytelling just aren’t priorities here.
I think it’s a real shame Tarantino didn’t prioritize these things because Once Upon a Time in Hollywood had so much potential, all the right ingredients. I realize many will disagree with me on this one, but I just felt really let down by this film. I left the theater thinking: “what was the point and how could a Tarantino film be that lost??”