Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Rated R | Minutes: 161
Release Date: July 26, 2019
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a deep and profound love letter that reads like an odyssey of the success and struggles of those who live within a world that only a few people understand. The director knows full well how things function and operate in this industry and, as such, provides an in-depth look at all the wheeling and dealing that goes on in a very meta way. Backed by a wealth of rich dialogue, razor-sharp humor, juicy violence, and fantastic chemistry between its leads in Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a fascinating work of art with some blemishes.
Without getting into great detail about the plot, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is Tarantino’s reenvisionistic approach to 1969 Los Angeles. It sees TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) trying to navigate through the treacherous waters of Hollywood. At the same time, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) has just moved in next door to Dalton, and soon, their worlds will collide in ways that neither of them could have ever imagined.
Like with Tarantino’s previous historical pieces, the fictional characters here will have an influence on real-world events, and, as such, they are the audience’s guide to a history we never knew and we see how they act and react to said events. Such as the emergence of the Manson Family, who has spread across the heart of Los Angeles either dumpster diving or trying to hitch a ride to a secluded part of a defunct movie set.
But if there is anyone who operates like a magical pixie in this hyperbolic Hollywood fairy tale, it’s Margot Robbie, who plays Sharon Tate. Though her dialogue is minimal and she isn’t given much to do, it’s her nuanced performance and sheer allure that is captivating. This especially comes to form when she innocently charms her way in for free to see her own movie, The Wrecking Crew, and gleefully watches as the audience positively reacts to her character’s comedic moments.
The other part of Tarantino’s film is told through Booth and Dalton. Dalton’s questionable career choices and alcoholism have pushed the actor to take small menial roles. Thus it brings out his insecurities and lowers his self-confidence. He struggles with his lines and believes he is nothing more than a washed-up has-been. Pitt’s Booth is there to be a sort of shoulder to cry on, providing support to Dalton in any way possible, even if that means driving him to sets or fixing his TV antennae. His loose personality along with that cool swagger makes for a very interesting character to watch.
And though its vignette storytelling makes it feel uneven at times, the film feels surprisingly cohesive and interconnective thanks in part to editor Fred Raskin. This really shouldn’t be a surprise, as Tarantino has a penchant for this format. It weaves in and out of the multiple stories it wants to tell. But the lack of a plot makes it feel like these stories could have been told separately. That being said, it is still a very engaging watch.
It is also beautiful to look at. The spirit of 1969 Los Angeles is captured by cinematographer Robert Richardson, who shot 35mm film with the use of Panavision cameras and lenses. So if you have a theater that shows it in that format, I suggest you go there and see it. Costume designer Arianne Phillips and set designer Barbara Ling also take us to a time long forgotten.
If anything, I just take issue with how Tarantino uses his reenvisionistic approach to warp history a bit too much. Though Mike Moh’s performance as Bruce Lee perfectly captures the late actor’s strength and arrogance, the depiction of him being weak is somewhat troubling. Also, the use of racial slurs seems very out of place; it just doesn’t work at times.
Still, even with its flaws, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is an incredible 161-minute watch – although, because of those long-winded pieces of dialogue along with the long takes, it can feel a lot longer than that. Which is good, because in a sense, it feels like you are getting lost not only in time, but in the world that Tarantino is presenting to you.
But it does earn every minute it is given, especially leading to the violently juicy third act. It is a frenzied and well executive sequence that is graphic and pulpy and delivers just as many shocks as it does laughs.
While Once Upon A Time In Hollywood follows in the lines of his other historic reenvisioning like Inglourious Basterds and The Hateful Eight, the film is more of a love letter to the art and the business that offers an alternative view to a tragedy. With its razor-sharp smart script and terrific chemistry between DiCaprio and Pitt, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood will no doubt be considered one of Tarantino’s best, but many will find it difficult to agree where it places among the film’s he’d directed.