Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

More than a brother, and a little less than a wife.

Growing up in a world in which Tarantino was already a household name and not the up and coming hip director that everyone coined him as was an experience. When I read articles and thesis’s for university, if Tarantino is ever mentioned (which isn’t as much as you’d think), he’s always regarded as a type of new Hollywood. These pieces are years old, but I feel that the general consensus is that Tarantino is still that young and hip filmmaker. He’s never grown up from that image that people created of him. He’s the university student displaying homage to his favourite films, he’s still that video store clerk recommending obscure films. Because of this, many believe that he hasn’t matured at all as a director. And before watching Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, I would’ve somewhat agreed. Now, I’ve always been a Tarantino fanboy. While Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, even Inglourious Basterds may not be five star films, I fall in line with many others and can’t help but award them with that rating. And it’s for the sheer love of cinema that gets displayed in these films. Sure, some will absolutely hate the overbearing ‘coolness’ of Tarantino’s world, but I find it so entertaining to watch a director actually enjoy his craft.

What’s my favourite Tarantino film? Honestly, it changes on the day. Pulp Fiction is still entertaining, engaging and hilarious after countless watches. I fall in love with Jackie Brown a little bit more with each viewing. Hell, Django Unchained (my first experience with Tarantino) still packs a punch for me. So, when Hollywood got announced, obviously I was excited.

This was my first Tarantino film in a cinema, and it was exactly what I wanted. Released in the middle of the week, a Wednesday, the screen was a near sell out. Demographics ranging from young (obviously sneak ins) to seasoned movie goers. And there was a buzz felt in the screening that had only been felt this year with the likes of Avengers: Endgame and what I’m guessing will be The Rise of Skywalker. People were excited! And this was also the film in which I was able to introduce two of my friends to the cinema of Tarantino. And then the picture started.

Now, I’m not gonna lie. For the good part of the runtime, I was worried. I wasn’t disappointed, I wasn’t ecstatic, I was just worried. The film, while being incredible, felt like it was missing something. Actually, scratch that. I was expecting something other than what I got. This film, a two hour and forty minute love letter to classic Hollywood, felt minimal. Especially from Tarantino. All the things I was expecting; the swearing, the blood, the violence, was kinda in short supply. This got rated 18 in the UK, the same rating every other Tarantino film has apart from Jackie Brown which has a 15 certificate. And, if anything, this is the closest thing he’s made to Jackie Brown. Now, I know people who think that Jackie Brown is his masterpiece and others who think it’s his worst outing, so that’s what you’re going to find with Hollywood. Until the finale, which I’ll get to later.

As the credits rolled, I was thoroughly entertained, but felt like I had missed something. I could recognise the talent here. Leonardo DiCaprio returns with his first movie since winning his Oscar, and I think his turn as Rick Dalton is one of his finest performances. From the very opening, he’s got the old Hollywood cowboy schtick down to a solid T! And he’s always entertaining when we see him doing ‘classic’ Hollywood acting. Those scenes of Bounty Law are hilarious because it does poke a little fun at how tame and sensible everything used to be and seem, but DiCaprio completely embodies himself into that era that he doesn’t feel out of place. There’s a fantastic scene in which Rick is inserted into a monumental war film to show that he’s a washed up actor that’s still holding onto the old ‘cool’ sense of cowboy acting he’s used to, and it’s hilarious but DiCaprio completely sells it and never once does it feel cheap, which it could’ve so easily.

The meat of the film is split up between its three main characters. And each of them do just a random day’s events. It’s very uneventful, as one might think, for the most part. Leo’s storyline involves him doing a hard day’s acting and trying to reclaim, to himself, his talent. It’s a masterclass of DiCaprio’s talent. This is a comedy and his comedic timing is stellar! But, on top of his hilarious outbreaks and emotional breakdowns, those scenes are genuinely moving. That scene (“that’s the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life”) is probably my favourite scene of the year so far, it was unexpected Tarantino but as soon as it happened I adored it. Leo gives another Oscar worthy performance here and one of the best comedic (and sympathetic) performances of his career.

I would’ve never thought anyone could outshine Leonardo DiCaprio (or let’s say Rick Dalton), but Brad Pitt is actually the stand out in this film. As Cliff Booth, Pitt perfectly captures the wit that Tarantino wrote and also portrays the exact coolness that I believe Tarantino wishes he was. This is the best comedic performance of the year! Those final thirty minutes should get Pitt any acting gig he wants for the rest of his career. A great little thing to Pitt’s character is in the makeup. Cliff Booth is a stuntman, and he’s got scars and injuries, and those are shown but never addressed. I just loved that little attention to detail that would’ve been a definite reality back in the 60s, and is still a reality to this day with current stunt performers not getting the same treatment as their acting co-stars. He’s also the nicest buddy to Rick Dalton. This is the buddy movie of the decade (tied with The Nice Guys) and the buddies are hardly together until the end. But throughout the entire film Pitt’s character is completely in debt to Leo’s, and he does it not out of obligation but because he genuinely loves the guy. It was really nice to just watch that. And, just to make the point firm, Brad Pitt is the coolest goddamn man on Earth in this film!

Margot Robbie is your last main character in Tarantino’s branching storyline tale. She was the debate of much controversy earlier on in the year, and I can totally understand it. For a top billing character, the material that Robbie has to work with is the minimum. She doesn’t get a lot of dialogue and most of her scenes feature her wondering through life like she hasn’t a care in the world. So I get why people got angry, because Robbie is a fantastic actress (I mean, have you seen I, Tonya!). However, and this is where I think Tarantino’s approach is fitting, she plays a real life Hollywood legend. But not a legend because of her career, but of the events in which this film revolves around. The Manson murders.

Robbie as Sharon Tate is, in my opinion, Tarantino at his most vulnerable with a character. I feel that he really does admire the work Tate created in her short career, and wishes that she became the big star that she was destined to be. I feel that by giving her a quiet, wholesome and generally nice storyline, he’s paying tribute. If people who never even knew who Tate was before this film leave with this image of her in their mind whenever they hear her name, I think Tarantino would be happy. And I think that’s why Robbie doesn’t get to swear, doesn’t get to involve herself within harsh subjects. He doesn’t want to do that to a person he clearly admires and believes should’ve continued for years.

And let’s not forget the huge supporting cast! Many of which get one or, at most, two scenes but completely knock it out of the park. Al Pacino is so much fun. Kurt Russell, not only hilarious when he shows up but also perfect as a narrator. Zoë Bell stealing the show! Dakota Fanning being a terrifying presence, I mean, how is that possible?! But everyone delivers brilliance. I don’t think that there’s one bad performance in sight.

And the dialogue! Even though much tamer than a lot of his other features, Tarantino’s knack for writing quotable and unforgettable lines has gone nowhere. And it’s interesting dialogue. Much like Jackie Brown with its casual and conversational moments (The Delfonics), Hollywood features Rick and Cliff literally commenting on a TV show. It’s funny, engaging, even heartwarming in a sense. And most of the film has this chilled and conversational approach. To some it will be boring, but what was being said was so entertaining in my eyes that I was never once bored.

There’s only one sequence, I’d say, where the film feels like it’s going to blow out and deliver violence and suspense halfway through the runtime. However, Tarantino subverts your expectations. Once again, it’s a decision that could bore people. Thinking something other than walkin’ and talkin’ is finally going to happen, and then suddenly it’s nothing. I loved the suspense that was set up however, and I wasn’t let down by the slow winding down after the reveal ends up being a little anticlimactic. Because it’s funny, but it’s also obviously a set up for later, and it does pay off. Also, on a small side note, I can only imagine that if you know the ins and outs of the Manson murders, then you’ll get so much suspense out of all the small tidbits sprinkled throughout the story. Like dates, specific times, locations. Having an idea of what is about to come, I feel, would make the film even more thrilling. It still works for people that weren’t completely clued up on all the events prior however (so me).

The day after I saw it, I went to see it again. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, but I couldn’t make up my mind whether I loved it or not. It didn’t automatically connect with me on that first viewing, because I was expecting something completely different. So, the film started, and it clicked. I suddenly felt happy being in the company of the characters again. I started to appreciate the fine details that I wasn’t paying attention to the first time. I relaxed with the movie, noticed the production design in the background and how lovingly recreated everything was. This film oozes the 60s and it’s fantastic, from the cars to the sidewalks! I realised the adverts on the radio station. I realised that Tarantino made a film that he connected with.

Everyone knows about Tarantino’s claim that he’s doing ten films and calling it quits, and this is his ninth. What’s the film about? An aging Hollywood star that was once the upcoming hotshot, but now Hollywood’s changed. New genres are becoming popular. Our hero’s maturing and realising that if he wants to remain a somebody, then he needs to prove that he’s got what it takes. This is Tarantino putting himself out there. It’s a loving ode to the classic films that he so obviously loves, but it’s also the most personal film he’s done. Rick Dalton isn’t a gangster, or a criminal, he’s just that normal guy that got into movies because he loved it. I think it’ll become the film Tarantino’s most proud of.

Is it perfect? I’ll still need a few watches to determine. But I don’t doubt that I’ll feel stronger towards it each time I revisit it. But before I finally finish, let’s talk about the ending, which is what many have come to expect from Tarantino. It’s hilarious, for starters. Honestly pitch perfect dark comedy that had my entire screen howling with laughter (on both occasions). It’s brutal, bloody, disturbing, unexpected and surprisingly works so well. The third act separates itself from the rest of the film just a little bit that it could be seen as short film worthy, which to some may be a negative of the film. However, I think it connects all three separate stories you’ve been watching for the past two hours quite perfectly. And everything’s on fire! The acting, the dialogue, the narrative! Then it ends on both a joyous and bittersweet note, which is a maturity I wasn’t expecting from Tarantino. Because for everything you’ve just witnessed, he perfectly (and subtly) reminds you that he has indeed been telling you a fairytale, and that this was Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.

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