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Quentin Tarantino’s love-in with a racist, sexist 1960s

This article is over 4 years, 10 months old
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is crammed with tributes to a bygone era of film—but director Tarantino is stuck behind the times, writes Gabby Thorpe
Issue 2668
Leonardo DiCaprio (centre) plays a washed up actor
Leonardo DiCaprio (centre) plays a washed up actor

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Is Quentin Tarantino’s “love letter to the 60s”, a time which he says impacted him more than any other.

It tells the story of a washed up actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) who lives next door to Sharon Tate in 1969, and his stuntman-cum-chauffeur (Brad Pitt).

Many truly believe that Tarantino is the greatest filmmaker of all time. But this film brings up the question, is he finally behind the times?

The answer, sadly, is yes.

The film feels longer than it is in a lot of places. It’s a plotless meander through Los Angeles, with scenes that go absolutely nowhere and don’t say a whole lot.

It is crammed with pop culture references that are rewarding for anyone who is as obsessed with the 60s as Tarantino is. For anyone else though, there is a risk that you are going to get completely lost.

The 60s, as portrayed here, doesn’t seem all that great. The characters are as misogynistic and mildly racist as one can expect from a Tarantino film.

Controversy surrounding the depiction of Bruce Lee as arrogant and unlikable is completely justified. It has been argued that because Once Upon A Time is fiction audiences should allow Tarantino artistic licence.

But besides obvious historical inaccuracies, the treatment of the only minority character in this film is insulting.

This isn’t the only cause of discomfort. Tarantino responded to the Harvey Weinstein scandal by suggesting that he was mildly aware of what was going on but chose not to act. This makes his representation of Sharon Tate all the more disconcerting.


Margot Robbie’s acting is completely wasted on a slightly vacuous and two dimensional character.

Then there’s a cringe-worthy flirtation between Brad Pitt and an incredibly young member of Charles Manson’s family.

It’s not all awful though. Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of a floundering has-been leads to some amusing interactions.

An outlandish, if slightly predictable, ending makes up for a lot. And the soundtrack lives up to Tarantino’s reputation.

Tarantino has always said he will make ten films. By his count, he has one more to go.

It feels an awful lot like he really could have stopped at eight. Once Upon A Time is his passion piece, but it all feels very unnecessary.

What he is saying with this film is that the best of the 60s consisted of white men and stereotypically ditzy women. Who knows what the film could have been if he was passionate about something real and interesting.

If, like Tarantino, you consider the 1960s to be the “golden age of film”, then you might find a lot to like in this film. But if you’re looking for plot, and Pulp Fiction style action then you could save yourself a lot of time by just watching the last half an hour.

Or better yet, just watch one of his nineties films. It will be a lot more rewarding.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is in cinemas now

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