Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood
Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood is a love letter to the Golden Age and director Quentin Tarantino reflecting on his own career and relationship with cinema. It's meaty, full of colorful characters and gorgeous set pieces that make for a wild trip down memory lane. It might not be Tarantino's best, but it's definitely his boldest and most ambitious.
Quentin Tarantino returns to the silver screen with Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, his epic homage to the fading Golden Age of cinema. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie star in what is easily Tarantino’s most personal film yet, reflecting not just on a time or place in movie-making history, but on his own career and the state of the industry.
Tarantino has never been known to be a slouch when it comes to writing strong characters and defining moments. On the surface, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood is about fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff (Brad Pitt) coming to terms with the end of the road. Dalton, desperately grabs onto any roles he can to stay relevant and to remind the world (and mostly himself) of his worth and value. Dalton is so down on his luck, that he’s considering doing a few Italian movies to shake up his repertoire. Meanwhile, Cliff is continuously appreciative of the opportunities given to him and of his friendship between himself and Rick.
The plot twists and turns sharply like an old beat-up car trying to make it to the top of Cielo Drive, even introducing Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) to the mix. For those of you uneducated on the matter, Sharon Tate and friends were murdered by The Manson Family (led by Charles Manson). Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood isn’t about this story in a traditional sense, instead it lingers in the background as the rest of the film unfolds.
Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood is without a doubt Tarantino’s most ambitious film yet, reflecting on Tarantino’s own possible fading career, as the director keeps stating that he will be done with movies after his tenth film, with OUATIH being his “ninth”. I don’t think the film is as much about Tarantino’s own worries as it is a piece of commentary on the state of cinema. We are definitely at a shifting point where big talky pictures like this are being faded into the oblivion as Netflix and Amazon continue to pump out stream-friendly films that fit in nicely between Disney’s MCU and animated remakes. Is there still a place for cowboys like Tarantino to play in the sandbox or will he have to get with the program and make a Fast & Furious film? Interestingly enough, Tarantino has mentioned wanting to do a Star Trek film.
Leonardo DiCaprio gives an insecure and sometimes even dumbfounded performance as former heartthrob Rick Dalton. I find his casting to be genius, having the successful and usually reliable and great DiCaprio playing an actor that’s clearly doubting his every movement and moment. From his brief stutter, to uncertain walking on sets, DiCaprio fully embraces the baggage and complexities that come with being Rick Dalton. His transformation is one of many things that keeps the movie on the tracks.
Brad Pitt steals the show as a stuntman you don’t want to mess with, Cliff Booth. What could’ve been a throwaway secondary character quickly becomes the most engaging and entertaining part of the film. Brad’s Cliff is confident, but mysterious, given his own hilariously dark backstory, combined with his friendship between Rick and his curiosity towards the new batch of hippies that have popped up over town.
Lastly, Margot Robbie‘s Sharon Tate isn’t as revolutionary or as focused as one may think from the trailers. The film is more about Hollywood and the change of tide as it is solely about the Manson Murders, but Tate does play a crucial role in the unfolding of the plot and in the balance of the characters. Rick appears to be depressed, beaten down and out of life as his career fades out of the spotlight, meanwhile Sharon Tate’s is blossoming and full of life, as she soaks in the joys of being in one of the latest big screen movies. Tarantino pokes at this throughout the film, up until the very end, giving us a full spectrum look at the life of a Hollywood star.
Of course Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood couldn’t be a Tarantino film without a controversial ending that features all of his trademark storytelling tricks. To spoil that would be to ruin some of the most memorable scenes depicted on film this year. Tarantino hits it out of the freaking park with this one and all I can say is that you will thoroughly enjoy it, if you’re a fan of his work.
Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood is very much a talky, 2.5 hour Tarantino joint and it’s full of his over-glorified dialogue that’s always working on different levels at once. It’s full of those visual cues that almost always hint at something to come and it contains so many of those little heartfelt moments that feel like timestamps from Tarantino’s past, giving you a better look at his brain. I absolutely enjoyed each and every moment, but I could see how someone might classify this film as slow or meandering — Tarantino just isn’t for everyone and that’s completely fine.
I must say, without spoiling, that Tarantino’s handling of the hippies of the Manson family was pitch-perfect, his representation of the characters and description of their motives made me almost burst into tears of laughter. Let’s not get me started on Tarantino’ foot fetish going into high gear, but one could write an entire essay on the meaning of those dirty feet compared to the clean and secure ones…the film just has so many little integral moments that can be blown up and examined under a microscope for hours.
But let’s save that talk for another time.
Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood is one of the very best films of the year and the must-see movie of the summer, if you’re looking for something a little more intimate and daring. It’s far from his best film, but also not his worst. I know that’s kind of a cop out, but I enjoyed it enough to see it twice in one week, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to stew on it to see where it eventually falls in his list of greats.
Tarantino is one of those rare filmmakers that has really never made a horrible film, thus making his films interchangeable throughout time as we continue to discover and appreciate film. I think that alone says so much about his dedication and craft to the medium — one day Inglourious Basterds might be the perfect Tarantino film that you need to unwind and enjoy, while the next it could easily be Jackie Brown or Reservoir Dogs.
I believe that Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood fits in perfectly next to those greats and will only get better with age and appreciation. I can only imagine the stress that is going to come with his tenth and “final” film, as Tarantino’s ninth is better than most directors’ entire resume of films.