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May 21, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

From the first once-upon-a-time tale we are told as a child, we have come to expect dramatic narratives to have three distinctly deliniated elements, i.e., a beginning, a middle, and an end — no matter whether the tale is conjured up as a Shakespearian play, a Hollywood movie, or pulp fiction. It therefore became somewhat discombobulating when so-called auteur filmmakers began producing screenplays that contained the first two elements but purposely lacked the third. It seemed like the artistic equivalent of coitus interruptus. There have been several such films that have been screened at the Cannes Film Festival this year. They reach a climax, and the filmmakers, instead of presenting us with a plot resolution, smack us abruptly with closing credits.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

That is certainly not the case with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which premiered at Cannes on Tuesday. Indeed the finale of this film is so stunning that it makes up for all the absent endings of the films that preceded it here.

Tarantino has been criticized in the past for going “over the top” — and that criticism was inevitably repeated by the critics who reviewed the film following its premiere at Cannes. Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman called the ending “quintessentially Tarantino” but commented that such an exposition “no longer feels revolutionary.” The movie, as everyone who has heard anything about it already knows — but you will find no details here — deals in part with the 1969 Manson murders. Suffice it to say, as Robbie Collin does in the London Daily Telegraph, that what we are served up here is a “Tarantinification of the horrific events.” (Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times makes the startling comment early in his review: “[I]f you wish to preserve the purity of a first viewing, it is probably best if you read no further, and that you read nothing else about the movie before Sony Pictures releases it.”) Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson found the final scenes “both grimly cathartic and revolting, a brief, horrific riot of crunch and gush that comes across a bit too gleeful.” Chang, in the L.A. Times, however, found them to be “funny, scary, troubling and exhilarating by turns,” while Peter Bradshaw in Britain’s Guardian described them as “entirely outrageous, disorientating, irresponsible, and also brilliant.”

Pitt, DeCaprio, Tarantino, and Margot Robbie at Cannes’ Red Carpet

 But nearly all of the critics also chose to emphasize the poignancy of Tarantino’s homage to the Hollywood that was, a Hollywood that “he has so lovingly reimagined here,” in the words of New York Times critic Manohla Dargis. The performances of DeCaprio and Pitt — DiCaprio as a fading movie star and Pitt as his stunt double, the two of them inseparable buddies — are surprisingly touching, several reviewers noted. No one, Dargis wrote, had expected Once Upon a Time … to be “such a moving film, at once a love letter — and a dream — of the Hollywood that was.” No one had expected Tarantino to be so restrained. Fionnuala Halligan, who reviewed the film for the British trade publication Screen Daily, approved of the “smooth turn in a new direction for the film-maker. And the warmth is welcome.”

Festival organizers had indicated in advance of the screening that Tarantino had worked up until the last minute to get a finished print of the film to Cannes in time for Tuesday’s scheduled screening. The movie won’t be released theatrically until July 26. The Cannes screening, therefore, may amount to an upscale sneak preview. It’s likely that Tarantino will continue touching up the film over the next two months.

More to follow