Everyone has a deeply nostalgic memory. They can be tied to a movie, place or just a specific point in time. But nostalgia is also very misleading. If you've ever returned to a movie, video game or any other piece of media from your childhood, chances are it won't be nearly as good as you seemed to remember it being. Time and nostalgia have a way of distilling our memories, stripping away all the bad parts and leaving us with a piece of near-perfection that probably never existed in the first place.
Nostalgia is usually a driving force in Tarantino movies alongside profanity, extreme violence and non-linear storytelling. Tarantino's most recent films: Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight expand upon that nostalgia much more so than his earlier films. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, however is almost solely about nostalgia in a way that's the driving, central force of the movie.
I was born in the late '90s and yet I felt a great deal of nostalgia for a time period that I never experienced in the slightest. Tarantino almost makes it impossible not to with both the cultural references peppered throughout and the vague sense of "glory days gone by" that two of the main characters, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) long to return to.
As much as I want to say that Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a historical fiction on the Sharon Tate murders, I walked away feeling rather that it was a gruff buddy hangout movie that just happens to be set during Hollywood in the late '60s. If you've forgotten, Charles Manson only actually appears once in the entire movie. There are long sequences where DiCaprio gets so much screen time that Pitt feels like a background character, but then the exact opposite happens with Pitt to the point where DiCaprio begins to look like second fiddle. DiCaprio and Pitt carry the majority of the movie, but they're balanced in such a way that leaves so much room for characters with barely any screen time at all to shine (see: Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning and Julia Butters).
This movie is just as much about writing a love letter to a long-gone era of moviemaking as it can be an allegory for a dozen other things. It's a period piece just as much as it is historical fiction just as much as it is a commentary on stardom and the perils of fame. There's just so much to think about and digest even before we come to terms with the ticking time bomb that is Sharon Tate's fate.
[SPOILER] She lives. Up until the very end when the credits rolled, and even a few moments afterward, I thought a twist ending was coming where Tate loses her life even after Rick and Cliff violently fight off the Manson family home invaders. In spite of the very frontal struggles that Rick and Cliff face in their respective careers, Sharon Tate felt like the physical homage to this very specific transitional period in American cultural and filmmaking.
The way we talk and think about nostalgia has changed in recent years. It used to be in such a way that we looked at history with rose-colored glasses. Eventually, things swing such a way that we begin to truly look back and uncover those dirty secrets and inconvenient truths that make history that much harder to digest and accept. Tarantino manages to do neither. In classic Tarantino fashion, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood lays everything out, the good and the bad, and leaves the audience to sift through it all and sort the good and the bad ourselves.
That being said, Tarantino's distaste for the counter-culture is apparent but it's also worth noting that all those depictions are of people from the Manson family. Whether that's intentional or not, the extreme outburst of violence near the end of the movie feels both extremely vindictive and weirdly cathartic. I've poured over dozens of reviews and the juxtaposition of the counterculture and the macho-men of Pitt and DiCaprio's characters continually comes up. Whether the portrayal of the counterculture is a cop-out for the changing times that Cliff and Rick are experiencing or it's noting more than some classic Tarantino revisionist history that focuses entirely on the Mansons is something I'll just have to sit on for a while.
Regardless, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is extremely enjoyable and held my attention for the nearly-three hour run time. In the great pantheon of Tarantino films I'd rank it in the upper half. It can't imagine that it'll hold the same cultural capital as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction but it's a much more enjoyable ride than Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. I'd still recommend anyone see it, even if you're not a Tarantino fan to begin with.