Ohem’s review published on Letterboxd:
Tender, restrained, and bittersweet Tarantino is not exactly something I was expecting. While I don't doubt his mid-life crisis or genuine love for a bygone era and its community, to me, this felt a lot like Vince Carter trying to convince us he wasn't just a dunker. We get it, you can also shoot the three ball... but it's not your bread and butter! So while I applaud him for jumping out of his comfort zone and trying something different, I can't say I wanted an attempt at maturity or meditation from Tarantino. It's just not what I'm looking for in his entertainments. It's not his bread and butter.
There are four key reasons why ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD doesn't work as well it wants to: it's Tarantino's first non-ensemble, it's so personal that unless you're equally obsessed with something so specific you'll probably be left out in the cold, Margot Robbie is given nothing to do, and while never slow-paced, almost everything before the pitch-perfect ending is inconsequential, arbitrary and frankly, more often than not, boring and repetitive. Unlike all of his outings prior to THE HATEFUL EIGHT, there’s just no justification for this being nearly three hours long.
So, yeah. This is a two-hander, through and through. On one hand, Pitt effortlessly gives the most soulful performance of his career, completely stealing the whole damn movie. On the other, hard as he might try his darndest, Leo can’t save Rick Dalton from being a slightly curious, pretty one-dimensional lead at best. Don’t get me wrong – Leo’s performance is great, and there’s nothing more he possibly could have done. But instead of spending a bunch of brief moments with a number of super amusing personalities, for three hours, you’re stuck with a protagonist that would have been more suited for a punchier, more supporting role. Cumulatively, especially towards the film’s DIE HARD-esque ending, the rapport between Pitt’s Cliff and Leo’s Rick does indeed pay off, but moment-to-moment, it all feels a little too aimless. Tarantino’s forte is not writing people; it’s writing caricatures, tension and plot. So, in branching out through character, the attempted poignancy, for the most part, replaces the laughs, the thrills, and the sheer *event* feeling you’ve come to expect from QT. You can see him attempting to pull an INHERENT VICE, but he’s only able to do it for a brief, subtle, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that’s too bittersweet to spoil (you’ll know it and feel it when you see it). Then back to the nerdy, replica, alternate universe Western references, and distracting cameos that go nowhere.
All this being said, while I was annoyed at how “mature” and anti-expectation Tarantino felt the urge to be throughout, the grand finale paid off heavily. All leashes, knives, and guns were let loose, and we finally got the mayhem we came for. I finally laughed my ass off at Leo’s line deliveries -- instead of quietly smiling like I did for the rest of the movie prior -- the tension simmered, and you genuinely had no idea where this thing was gonna go. And off... it... went. Graceful final shot, too.
Finally, major shouts to the vintage Tarantino suspense at the ranch, and to the precocious Julia Butters who deserves her own TRUE GRIT-like spin-off.
In the end, Tarantino’s foray into his favourite epoch wasn’t nearly as exciting as anxiously guessing how he was going to end up tackling it, but we got a somewhat directionless, somewhat touching friendship/love letter in the process. Perhaps ten is the right amount after all.