Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, the 9th film from Quentin Tarantino has been a buzz for a year or two now. I remember first hearing about the film back in 2018 with the phrase “Tarantino is doing a movie about the Manson murders!” How exciting!
The film we got was an interesting, and at least for me, pretty enjoyable film. But it was a huge departure from what I expected as “Tarantino’s Manson Murder Movie.” Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (Note: do I have to type that out everytime?) is a really fun movie. Or rather, it has a really fun movie hiding inside of it. There’s one major flaw holding it back.
It’s too long! I know Tarantino has notoriously long run times, and I sat through all of Endgame with no problems (I made it 2 / 3 times without having to use the bathroom!) But OUT…H (nailed it) *feels* long. I think I know why, but unfortunately, it’s exactly what got most of us so excited in the first place. Spoilers to follow.
The Manson stuff has to go. Or at least, most of it. Most of the movie shows the life of Leonardo DeCaprio’s fictional Rick Dalton, and occasionally cuts to Brad Pitt’s equally fictional Cliff Booth. But, every now and then there is a sequence showing us Margot Robbie as the very real Sharon Tate. This is to set up the Manson side of the story, and make us worried for Sharon, who famously is murdered in her home by followers of Charles Manson.
However, similar to the alternate history of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, the big M. Night Shyamalan twist is that the Manson followers are murdered by Dalton and Booth. So the premise of the movie ultimately becomes “What if the Manson murders never happened” or “What if Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate lived next to these characters?” And that premise does not need Sharon Tate. If you know of the murders, Tarantino could have simply dropped hints that Dalton lived next door to the famous murder site. There could have been scenes establishing that these fictional characters exist in the reality where Manson and his cult also exist. But we don’t need extended sequences to appreciate Sharon Tate and feel… good(?!) that she and her friends are not murdered.
The movie following Rick Dalton, a television star past his prime trying to make his way back to the top is interesting enough by itself. DeCaprio has a p-h-e-n-o-m-e-n-a-l group of scenes where Dalton has a cameo role on a new tv show. We see his highs and lows, his private moments, and how he interacts with other actors on set. Thinking about it afterwards, I thought, “This should have been the whole movie!”
To put the twist simply, the Manson family go to murder everyone at Sharon Tate’s house, but decide to murder Rick Dalton instead when they see he lives next door. Wow what a twist! What follows is a pretty rad and extremely gruesome 10 minute scene where Booth and Dalton kill the killers. (Just before this scene I thought, “Wow, this doesn’t have a lot of violence.” And BOY was I wrong). Hooray!
But we don’t need to love Sharon Tate as a character in the movie to be glad she isn’t murdered. We don’t need to see Sharon Tate exploring Hollywood occasionally to get a bigger pay off from the twist in history. If you know of the Manson Murders, then you could have appreciated the alternative history from your prior knowledge. If you don’t know about the Manson Murders, then you probably don’t know who Sharon Tate is, and will be confused the whole movie trying to figure out her deal. If you thought you knew about the Manson Murders, but had it twisted and you thought Sharon was the murderer (like a certain podcast host), then you’ll be even more confused!
Ultimately, OUT…H is a really interesting character study of 70’s Hollywood. Unfortunately, it’s about an hour too long. It has some other issues, but those seem inconsequential compared to the runtime. I would still suggest it, but you can wait until it comes out on streaming. You can watch it at your pace, maybe fast forward through some parts. Maybe Netflix will give it the Hateful Eight treatment and release it as a four part mini series.