Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably one of the most anticipated films of this year by most cinephiles. Yet, here I stand not being nearly as impressed as everyone else seem to be. Look, I don't hate this film, and I'm not trying to do some hot take here. I was entertained by Quentin Tarantino's ninth film, but I was also underwhelmed by it. I should also mention that this review will have minor spoilers.

This film has one big strength that I highly appreciate. Leonardo DiCaprio's Rick Dalton is the best and most engaging role DiCaprio has ever played. Not only does he get to show his vast acting range here, he does it with aplomb. He's so damn great here that I wish this film had been solely about him and his rise and fall in Hollywood. I would have loved to actually see footage of those faux-Italian westerns he starred in. The production design is also top-notch, with every set, poster, vehicle, costume and even dog food cans all feeling appropriate for the time period. Combine this with a great 60's soundtrack and Robert Richardson's solid cinematography, and you have a film that oozes an awesome atmosphere. At times, it even reminded me positively of Jackie Brown in terms of being more of a "hangout" film rather than a witty action/gangster film, and I wish I could have appreciated this more than I do after watching this film.

Where the film fails to impress me is with its scatterbrained focus and paper-thin story. Yeah, after my most recent retrospective on Tarantino earlier this year, I do admit that Tarantino will always be style over substance, even though there are instances where they blend together wonderfully. I mean, Pulp Fiction still held up for me, despite it also being scatterbrained and having minimal focus on narrative. But, what Pulp Fiction has, which Once Upon a Time in Hollywood lacks is a vibrant world with amazing characters that are all fleshed out. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood only has Rick Dalton; I couldn't care less about the other characters. Sharon Tate is nothing but a glorified symbol of New Hollywood which fell flat to me, because Margot Robbie doesn't have much to work with. If Sharon Tate is going to be a symbol of the joy of the 60's, make her more interesting by actually making a character out of her, Quentin! Cliff Booth is too bland for my liking, and he only became interesting towards the end. And no, he didn't need that Bruce Lee scene to establish his badassery; I thought it would have been more effective to give him kind of a word-of-mouth mythology which would build up his eventual heroics at the climax. The film also spent way too much time at the Spahn ranch with the Manson family. They were not interesting at any point to me, and I think you could have cut Cliff's visit at the ranch out, without it affecting the story in the slightest.

In conclusion, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was fun while it lasted, but I also think it should have been much better than it ultimately was. Tarantino might find this very personal to himself, but I wish he would have done more to help immerse his audience into the revised version of history he had created here.

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