Tom Jolliffe looks ahead to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood…
There is no doubting that in the last (nearly) three decades, Quentin Tarantino has been one of the best film-makers around. His back catalogue is rich, varied and impressive. If you’re asking me for rankings, then his first two, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction come out on top. Death Proof props up the list. The under-appreciated gem of his list for me is Jackie Brown. Then if we’re looking beyond his work as director and purely on writing duties, then I’ve got a whole lotta love for True Romance (which everything included would rank just behind Dogs and Pulp).
Since we moved into the 21st century I would say his projects have begun veering into inconsistency. That’s not to say he’s not doing great work. When Kill Bill is great, it’s really masterful. That said the first instalment is infinitely better than the second, and both films meander off in flights of QT’s whim at regular intervals. Inglourious Basterds, particularly when Christophe Waltz is on screen, has moments of utter filmic perfection. It also has moments where the film just drifts away again. It’s what stops them at simply being excellent films and not quite reaching masterpiece level. The same can be said of his last two films, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. The latter never quite reached the same gripping level of excellence at any given moment that Tarantino regularly achieves and was just too long.
So we have Tarantino, allegedly winding his career up to a close with perhaps another couple of films. Next up is Once Upon A Time In Hollywood which reads on the surface, a little more like a Paul Thomas Anderson film. Set during a period in Hollywood history when Charles Manson was inspiring his infamous murders, the film will follow a TV actor and his stunt double out looking to make a name for themselves in the industry. Said actor will be played by Leonardo DiCaprio and his stunt double by Brad Pitt, already described as having a Newman and Redford dynamic together. A Tarantino film always guarantees a great cast, but even by his standards it appears he’s outdone himself with a heady mix of mega-stars old and new, and cult actors that’s an Eric Roberts away from cast perfection. Among others we’ll finally see Al Pacino in a Tarantino film. The prospect of the exceptional Margot Robbie in a QT film is exciting too.
There are many aspects that excite me about this film. For one, it’s a period in history so perfectly attuned to the Tarantino style and sensibility. Part of my love of Pulp Fiction are his odes to 50’s culture, and in Jackie Brown it’s a love letter to the 70’s, Motown and blaxploitation cinema. The end of the 60’s, and a move toward the 70’s. It’s an era a young Tarantino grew up in, and probably began falling in love with films during. Even the idea of the soundtrack he’s likely meticulously planned out is wildly alluring. I’m brought back to also thinking of P.T.A as well and Boogie Nights.
The overall story is a little vague at this point, but generally tends to be this early in the production of a QT opus. He doesn’t like to reveal his cards too much. One would assume it’ll have the feeling of interconnected vignettes, much like Pulp Fiction and with a similar approach to structuring. Indeed, this is where things could go slightly awry.
Okay, Pulp Fiction has some vignettes more interesting than others, but is never less than enthralling. If he comes close to that consistency, then great. Still, as said, in more recent years those flights of Tarantino fancy can be a mixed bag. Will the film succumb to indulgence? At whim at the expense of pacing? Kill Bill was essentially one film that had to be split due to the length. Death Proof was built around a car chase but the surrounding Tarantino-ism’s tended to grind the film to a halt and bog it down and ultimately lose sight of the Grindhouse films it was paying homage to. His last three films felt half and hour too long in each case.
The key aspect for me isn’t so much in the great moments. Those will be there. Those will be in abundance with that cast. It’s in Tarantino’s ability to set a bottom line. To lay out the bass and percussion. It can’t fly off into experimental riffing and affect the rhythm of the whole piece. Pulp Fiction was pure Bonham and Paul-Jones (Led Zeppelin’s rhythm section) brilliance. Stylish, accomplished but consistent. The perfect platform for the theatrics of Plant and Page. If Quentin gets his base-line right and doesn’t lose us in between the great bits, then he’ll surely deliver his best film this century. Here’s hoping.