Review of ‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’ by Quentin Tarantino

Watch the film before you read the book. How often can we say that?! This is a novelisation by the director and writer of the 2019 film, Quentin Tarantino. The book is packaged to resemble a vintage mass market paperback, complete with adverts in the back. This is very appealing. But what about the novel itself?

Set in 1969, the book follows a number of people connected to the film industry, some of them real, some of them fictitious. The characters with the most screen time are the antiheros – Rick Dalton, a jaded western actor, and Cliff Booth, murderer, veteran and Rick’s stuntman. Living next door to Rick are Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, while Charles Manson and his followers are scouting the area. The book includes, as far as I can remember, the main points of the film, plus some extra background.

I had two major problems with the book. Firstly the writing. I’m not taking issue with the deliberately pulpy style, as the apparently careless choice of words does have a strange charm. Even the male gaze, with every woman appraised as a sex object, is tolerable because of what the story aspires to emulate. What really bored me were the synopses of films, lists of actors and what films they were in, descriptions of the characters’ favourite films and why. It’s not fiction, it’s some kind of essay. Take all of these out and a narrative with a plot and decent pace might just emerge, if not for my second problem: the ending. The book sums up the film’s tense, violent yet brilliant ending in a paragraph a quarter of the way through. We are then left with nothing for the narrative to work towards and an inevitable anti-climax. What a disappointment. If there’s a very clever reason for this self-sabotage, someone explain it to me please.

You may wish to read the book and find out for yourself how inferior it is to the film. Otherwise, not recommended.

Published in 2021.

9 thoughts on “Review of ‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’ by Quentin Tarantino”

  1. Great timing! I watched the film earlier this year and loved it. I’ve been looking out for the book, but don’t think I’ll bother with it after reading your review.

    1. I was very intrigued when I saw this book was coming out (and nearly bought it, borrowed from the library instead) but it was just disappointing. Had it been a more straightforward telling of the film, it would have been a better read.

  2. Oh wow, this is indeed something that doesn’t happen too often… Now that I think about it, I have never read a novelization of a film or TV series. I haven’t seen the film either in this case though

    1. Films are usually based on books, rather than the other way round! I have read a few novelisations but the only one I remember being as good as the film is Pan’s Labyrinth.

  3. I watched some of the movie some time ago, and it was not good. Even if it was Quentin Tarantino, it was not good lmaooo

    1. I wouldn’t say I loved the film, I doubt I would watch it again. There were some things that I enjoyed about it but if you didn’t like the film anyway then the book is definitely not for you 😀

  4. I didn’t realize there was a novelization of the film. I thought the film itself was OK, certainly not memorable… I guess I thought the era and the events deserved a better film treatment.

    1. To be honest, I didn’t love the film but I thought some aspects of it were clever. The book is very much one for the Tarantino fan club just because he wrote it!

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