Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

"Goddamn fuckin' hippies."

So the first thing I noticed was that the theatre on opening/preview night was full of single loser guys like me: all wearing glasses, all on their phones (but not cool enough to start typing a review like this), all not talking, all sitting at least two seats from one another, all overweight. Why aren't we friends?

Anyway.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is quintessential Quentin, idiosyncratic and stylistic, convoluted and overly long, yet still an absolute blast and one of the best times I've had in a theatre this year, with a wild balls-out twist that I URGE you not to spoil for yourself, you beautiful people you.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, cowboy Hollywood star of the 50s and early 60s, now in 1969 playing bit parts and guest sports as "the heavy" in westerns and police shows. After a mid-life crisis of sorts, he says to his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) that he feels like a "has-been." Cliff assures him that sunny days are ahead. Meanwhile, Rick's next-door neighbor on his private street, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), has her whole life ahead of her, married to star director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha) and herself a talented starlet in the latest pictures. When misfortune befalls Cliff as Rick gets a part and he doesn't, a chance encounter with what will prove to be the cult of hippies who follow Charlie Manson will change all of their lives forever.

That's vague, I know, and less detail than I usually give. That's for two very important reasons: 1) you MUST not find out any more plot than that or it will ruin the movie, and 2) the first 75% of the story is purposefully slow and eludes a better description. Yet A-list acting performances from DiCaprio and Pitt carry Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to higher heights than it would achieve otherwise, until a truly bonkers climax comes that will smack you upside your head. Literally jaw-dropping for me; really, sat with mouth agape.

Easily the best Tarantino film in a decade, and probably the best in twenty years -- sorry, you're not going to top my queen Jackie Brown -- his love letter to the golden age of Hollywood is a crazy ambitious story that blends fact and fiction in fantastic and certainly controversial ways. All the classic Tarantino obsessions are there, from the deep and profound (fame, masculinity, purpose) to the fetishistic and nonsensical (yep, feet). And this time he's able to craft a story with an invigorating vision, a collage of pop culture and Hollywood bygone eras and personas both real and imagined, a provocative and thrilling ride that takes it sweet time but rewards you oh so sweetly and completely for your patience.

Sure, it's self-indulgent. It's Tarantino, the king of indulgence! Turn away if you don't want to see a movie that destroys and also salivates over Hollywood culture. And it could be argued that Margot Robbie deserved a little more time on screen; she's very good a more limited role than you might imagine.

Shot impeccably by cinematographer and three-time Oscar winner Robert Richardson (it is a crime against humanity if he misses out on a nomination this year), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be divisive and polarizing for sure because of pace and story, and Tarantino's elegiac yet revisionist spin. I however was floored and thrilled.

This is a man who said he might have a tenth film in him after this, and then call it quits. Good lord, when your ninth is this good, this unique, this bold and challenging and exciting… it's impossible to believe that Tarantino doesn't have a lifetime of stories still to tell.

Added to The Best Narrative Films of 2019.
Added to 2020 Academy Awards nominees, ranked.
Added to Quentin Tarantino ranked.

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