“It’s official old buddy, I’m a has-been.”Rick Dalton
Set in the late 1960s, as Hollywood’s heydey is already drawing to a close, it is easy to see washed-up actor Rick Dalton as a vehicle for Tarantino’s anxiety about his own continuing relevance. The interwoven tapestry of stories combines real and fictional characters, allowing Tarantino to revel in the filmmaking process and insert his characters into classic movies. The introduction of Sharon Tate is intended to cast a shadow over the story and Tarantino deftly fills an extended sequence at the Manson family’s ranch with a sense of unease and dread, but he also makes a conscious decision to assume knowledge on the part of the audience. I suspect Tate’s story plays far better in the USA (where the Manson family murders are deeply ingrained in the public consciousness) than elsewhere in the world. Once Upon A Time‘s alternate reality is telegraphed early when a stuntman played by Brad Pitt bests Bruce Lee in a fight. Some may view this as disrespectful but Tarantino is obviously a fan of Lee and the entire point is the ridiculousness of this outcome. It leaves the audience guessing at how Tarantino will treat Tate’s brutal murder, particularly given Inglourious Basterds‘ loose adherence to historic fact. Although staples like chapter headings are gone, Tarantino still gets in his own way. Multiple foot shots break the immersion, feeling perfunctory and self-indulgent, and — as with The Hateful Eight — the most irritating tool is an out-of-place single-use voiceover, deployed here to summarise the events of a six-month time jump, all of which could have been communicated effectively on screen instead. Ultimately this is as much a languid movie for film lovers as it is for Tarantino fans — his ninth film sits solidly in the middle of his catalogue but, for a director appearing to question his relevance, that is no small feat.