P U R D I E’s review published on Letterboxd:
As I left the cinema, I was kinda dumbstruck...
This didn't go the way I expected it to and there is a lot to unpack but I was left a bit of a mess by the end. The movie is about a lot of things, but at it's core (for me), it's about getting old...... DiCaprio plays a deluded, past his prime TV actor during the twilight of his short career. The movie opens up on the day he finally smalls the coffee and his future suddenly seems kinda bleak. What do you do when you discover you have a shelf life and that you have no guarantee for the rest of your days? How do you continue into the great unknown when your reality is a make-believe fantasy? These are questions that DiCaprio's Rick Dalton is dealing with throughout Once Upon A Time In Hollywood..... and it hit me pretty hard. I have similar fears about my own future. I work in an industry that seems to be growing faster than people can afford to contribute to it, I'm getting older, crankier, fatter, and I live in one of the most expensive countries in the world, on an island that's about to throw itself off a cliff in the name of Brexit. It feels like disaster could strike at any moment and I have no idea what I'd do if I lost my job, or if I became ill. When DiCaprio is struggling to learn his lines with the little girl, at first I was laughing, then crying, then, finally, I had a minor panic attack. Right there in the cinema. It sucked.
DiCaprio got me, man.... right in the feels. The scene is played for laughs but it's heartbreaking all the same and DiCaprio sells it so hard. What could have been a dumb caricature is given a depth a truth that few actors are capable of. This is his best performance to date in my opinion.
The other performances are solid. Brad Pitt is great in this as a potential psychopath and Margot Robbie gives a beautifully enigmatic performance as Sharon Tate, who's mere presence imbues the narrative with a sense of dread. A lot has been made of her lack of dialog but I felt it only added to the foreboding surrounding her. Besides, giving her a truck load of Tarantino-dialog would have been a little crass, right? This was the only way to approach this tragic figure and Robbie is a strong enough actress to make it work.
If I were to criticise the movie for anything though, it's that Tarantino perhaps relies too heavily on public knowledge of the Charles Manson murder's to understand some of the narrative choices. My girlfriend left the cinema perplexed and admitted she was confused anytime the hippies or Tate were on screen. After I explained to her why that was all going on, she told me that her viewing experience would have been enhanced had she known. Subtlety goes a long way, but perhaps it could have been signposted a little better..... then again, this is a love letter to Hollywood, not to the general public....
Full points for the ending, though, which is an all timer and the reaction from the sold-out audience I was sat in convinced me that this was a classic. Full of gasps and screams - that was amazing, and so visceral that it pulled me out of the prolonged panic attack I was experiencing. After 150 minutes of build up, Tarantino flips the switch and re-invents history in the craziest way imaginable, doubling down on the violent conclusion of Inglorious Basterds to shock and amuse in equal measure. Hands down it's one of the most violent things I've ever seen in a mainstream movie and it will absolutely divide any audience watching it. Personally, given the choice of reliving a miserable history, or celebrating a fantasy alternative, I'll take the fantasy every time. We all would. That's one of the great powers of cinema.
For it's fault's, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood see's Tarantino firing on all cylinders and in today's increasingly sterile cinematic landscape, we need boundary-pushing artists like him in the mainstream more than ever.