Quentin Tarantino is perfectly entitled to make his irksome little fetishistic movie during the era of post-Twitter ‘discourse’, and he’s entitled to release it, but by doing so he’s merely offering a wealth of meat for the wolves of wokeness waiting to pounce on a major studio movie that refuses blindly to suggest any complexity to the lives of women in 1969 Los Angeles while canonising its male heroes as the dream-achieving macho saviours of Republican fever dreams.
On his ninth feature, Tarantino has achieved a near-unique level of authorial agency within the studio system: by making extreme violence and cynical personalities his trademarks, there’s really nothing he could create too shocking for Sony (taking the reigns from The Weinstein Company) to release. So he’s opted to make his fourth consecutive period piece, a tribute to the very specific areas of 1960s film that interest him: the TV western, Bruce Lee, bad sex comedies, and focus on characters representing the star figures from these projects. Leonardo DiCaprio is a faded western actor, Brad Pitt his stunt double (who fights Bruce Lee in perhaps the film’s most insufferably indulgent scene — and that’s saying something), Margot Robbie is a near dialogue-less Sharon Tate, an object for Tarantino to project onto some of his sincerity over the tragedy of the Manson family murders.
This film is almost 3 hours long and long stretches are dedicated to faux footage from the westerns DiCaprio is making within the film, and to Sharon Tate wandering around bookshops and going to see herself in The Wrecking Crew. Tate is by far the most genuine figure, and by proxy the most one-dimensional, to appear in a QT movie in years.
There’s a pretty remarkable lack of female agency in Hollywood: Margaret Qualley functions as a carrot that leads Pitt’s character to the Manson ranch; Julia Butters provokes DiCaprio’s sentimental side and everyone else is just around to seduce or kill. Maybe Tarantino could argue he’s created a complex commentary on women’s role in the 60s film industry. I think he’s just deeply disinterested in their personalities. Just their feet. And their violent murder.
There’s a point at which the violence in a Tarantino movie stops being fun and starts being embarrassing; the last act of Hollywood flies past it and enters the realm of the deeply sadistic, and almost the right-wing. It leaves such a bad taste in the mouth that the film’s disparately pleasurable elements — the soundtrack, the production design, cameos from familiar faces (other than Bruce Lee, which is an absurd and spiteful sequence), Pitt’s unassailable movie star charm — are hard to appreciate in one’s rear-view mirror.
Halfway through the end credits, after DiCaprio has tried to advertise us some cigarettes, the 60s Batman theme kicks in. I stood up and said “I can’t do it anymore, this is so annoying”, and part of me wishes I’d done that at the very start. Why should I have to endure this weird man’s weird movie when there are ten dozen women, LGBT and non-white filmmakers doing exceptional work at this very minute? I’m genuinely fed up of the indulgent, vain and hyper-personal nonsense that gets churned out by younger baby boomers, and lauded with awards glory. And I’m fed up of Leonardo DiCaprio getting these movies greenlit. Enough.