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Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood’ is beautiful and attention-grabbing, but relies on cultural biases about the Manson Family. (Photo provided via @empiremagazine on Twitter)

Film Review: Stakes are low in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’

In his ninth film, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino tries to do what he has already done: change history. The plot harkens back to his extremely successful Inglourious Basterds. But this time, a spaghetti western actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DeCaprio), and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), meet the Manson Family and try to save Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her baby’s life. 

The Manson family lives on Spahn Ranch, where Dalton’s former films and television shows were shot. Booth meets a hitchhiker named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) and drives her back to the ranch, where he first meets the gaggle of Manson groupies. But the family’s new-age ideals and Charles Manson’s self-centered preaching makes the tough stunt actor wary of those seemingly peaceful teenagers. 

The film focuses mainly on Dalton and Booth, who have a very loose connection to the Manson family. Dalton lives next to the Polanski house, so he knows the victims of the famous Manson murders. But what Tarantino fails to do is make the villains evil enough. The only reason the Mansons are evil is because of the murders. The worst thing the family does to Dalton is slash one of his tires. The film takes place before the murders, so their evil isn’t communicated as well as Christoph Waltz’s vile Nazi character in Basterds

The Manson Family’s mystique in this movie is killed by the fact that they’re simple brainwashed teenagers. The viewer has reason to absolutely hate Charlie Manson, but for other members like “Squeaky” Fromme (Dakota Fanning) and Steve “Clem” Grogan (James Landry Hebert), it’s harder to hate them, because they haven’t done anything evil — yet.

Since Tarantino has already successfully released a film with the same goal — to change history for the better — Hollywood falls under more intense scrutiny, and it doesn’t compare well. At the climax of the film, the viewer barely gets a glimpse of the action duo talking to the family. All the characters are flat, and Tarantino throws false clues about their fates, making it difficult to care about their progression. 

Although a triumphant effort to recreate history once again, since Tarantino has already done so successfully, the two films will inevitably be compared. Hollywood, while beautiful and attention-grabbing, doesn’t have high enough stakes nor the character development to engage the viewer. Instead, it relies on cultural biases about the Manson Family without developing tangible traits that viewers can hate. 


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