Tarantino's Dilemma: Tinker With 'Once Upon a Time In Hollywood' After Cannes?

Illustration by: The Sporting Press

Although his latest won praise at the festival, the famously fussy filmmaker could re-cut the Leonardo DiCaprio-Brad Pitt feature amid Sony's high expectations for the $90 million project.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood emerged from the Cannes film festival with stellar reviews but no Palme d'Or. Now, the major question for Sony is whether Quentin Tarantino will re-edit the film before its release July 26?

Sources say the director, who headed out on vacation after the Cannes closing ceremony May 25, hasn't indicated that he will shorten or lengthen the film, which is currently 159 minutes, or make any changes. But Tarantino worked up until the last minute on the film and has nearly two months to make a nip/tuck, so insiders would not be surprised if he tinkered. Even the film's trailer features shots that didn't appear in the Cannes cut. Sony film chief Tom Rothman says he is in the dark about Tarantino's plans. "You'd have to ask the maestro himself," Rothman deflects.

The R-rated Once Upon a Time marks a gamble for the studio considering that its budget came in at $90 million, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter, after qualifying for the California tax credit and recouping more than $15 million.

The director's highest-grossing film, 2012's Django Unchained (165 minutes) earned $425 million worldwide, while his last directorial effort, 2015's The Hateful Eight (167 minutes), rounded up just $155 million globally. Other films that have been famously recut after their Cannes debuts include 2004's epic Troy and 2014's drama Grace of Monaco, though not great comparisons given that the former received middling reviews out of the festival and the latter featured a standoff between director Olivier Dahan and Harvey Weinstein.

Heading into the Cannes festival, the director’s biggest concern was keeping spoilers under wraps for the next two months. After all, there remains a great deal of intrigue about how the auteur deals with the infamous Manson murders of 1969, when the film is set (Sharon Tate, who was murdered by Manson cult members, is a central character played by Margot Robbie).

But for his first film without Harvey Weinstein running interference (all of his previous films were made by the since-disgraced mogul), Tarantino faltered even at the film’s Cannes press conference. When asked by a female reporter why an accomplished actress like Robbie had so little to say or do in the film, he shot back, “I reject your hypothesis.”

The PR road will inevitably get bumpier for Tarantino over the ensuing weeks. The film features graphic depictions of violence against women as well as a Robert Wagner-esque reference to Pitt's character having gotten away with murdering his wife. In another choice certain to spark outrage, Tarantino again puts his star (Brad Pitt) behind the wheel of a blue Karmann Ghia convertible while it maneuvers twisty Hollywood hills (despite the fact that Uma Thurman famously suffered neck and knee injuries as a result of a crash in a similar car in his Kill Bill).

Then there’s the casting of Emile Hirsch — who served 15 days in jail after he plead guilty to beating and choking a female Paramount executive at a Sundance party — in the key role of real-life Manson victim Jay Sebring. Even Roman Polanski’s wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, is calling out the film for making money off of her husband Roman Polanski’s tragedy (he was married to Tate at the time of the murder) without consulting him.

But the Pulp Fiction director appears to have at least reached a détente with Thurman, if a supporting role is any indication. The actress' daughter Maya Hawke plays a Manson follower in the film. "We can't let originality die," Rothman says of the film, adding, "The truth of the matter is the Quentin Tarantinos of this world are few and far between."

A version of this story first appears in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.