Naturally, spoilers for a recent release follow. Read at your own discretion.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell*
Have I Seen it Before: No. New release, and Tarantino always keeps things fresh within certain parameters, although I’m absolutely certain I’ve seen shots of feet like that before. Damn, does that man love feet. If he does end up making a Star Trek film—as looks to be a strong possibility as his tenth and allegedly final film—be prepared to see some Starfleet officers out of their boots.
Did I Like It: I’m still processing a lot of it, but yeah, what’s not to like with Tarantino?
Every movie of his has been like hanging out with a much cooler older brother who has seen every movie you should. It also helps that he is skilled enough to distill all of those wonderful things into expertly crafted entertainments in their own right.
And it’s that feeling that continues here, but with less emphasis. There are deep dives into the wonders of B+ Spaghetti Westerns and 60s action-adventure TV, and it is all a delight. Tarantino loves the 60s, and through the course of the film I cannot help but share his love. The milieu also does a remarkable job of establishing the kickass bonafides of Cliff Booth (Pitt) by having him drop kick Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) into the side of nearby sedan. It also removes the potential for any future about if Booth or Lee would win in a fight.
There have been no shortage of hot takes about the level of violence in the film. Most of them somehow have the nerve to sound surprised that Tarantino would deign to feature elevated levels of violence in his films. It’s pretty clear that if these people weren’t born yesterday, they’ve certainly been asleep for the better part of thirty years.
Even so, the violence is different here than anything we’ve seen from Tarantino before. For one thing—along with the language—it is remarkably restrained, until it isn’t. The worst examples of violence are perpetrated against women, which in and of itself is problematic, but at the same time Pitt and DiCaprio viciously murder two of the more unrepentant killers in modern history, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel (along with their companion Charles “Tex” Watson).
But then again—just like with Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009)—history is turned on its ear, and by the time Manson’s assassins meet their grisly end, they’ve really only broken and entered (that’s the past tense of breaking and entering, right?).
It’s certainly given me more complex things to think about than the cathartic end of Adolf Hitler in Basterds.
And all of that leave me with even more interesting things to consider. With Helter Skelter thwarted before it could get off the ground, how does that change the makeup of pop culture? Does Manson (Damon Herriman) and his family pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and start all over again? With Manson’s prophecies fully disproven, does the family unravel, leaving old Charlie a wandering racist vagabond, without his infamy to fuel his hateful ego? Does Sharon Tate become the delightful screen presence that her brief time in front of the camera hinted at, or will she become a side note in cinematic history? That pretty lady who was once married to Roman Polanski?
Could that be the takeaway? Everybody in Hollywood is destined to be a little less famous than they would like to be? I’m content to think that isn’t the thesis, because ultimately this is Tarantino, and his latest film fulfills its promise by being a symphony of strange and unusual things. I could unpack every element, but I would need several thousand more words and at least another screening or two before I could hope to do it justice. It will stick with you long after the director of the Red Apple cigarette commercial calls “cut.” And—assuming you’re into Tarantino—you’ll like it, too.
*It proved more difficult than I might have otherwise thought to come up with a fourth billed actor, as nearly every other actor and character is a cypher throughout the movie. Even Manson, arguably the only catalyst for a plot in the film, appears for maybe a minute, and does precisely nothing. The award has to go to Russell, since he also pulls narration duty.