Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a sublime film that dances with cinema and the layers that can exist within movies while still reminding you that yes, this is a Quentin Tarantino beast and we are going to go on a bender, ladies and gentlemen, by the time we hit the finish line. Not missing a single beat, Tarantino is back to remind us that he can still make a damn fine motion picture and is only securing that legacy even further with Hollywood. Quentin has written some funny material before, but this one is hilarious at damn near every turn. Even in its most violent state, jokes come spilling out that will bowl you over with their precision. Aided by a stellar cast led by veterans Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Hollywood never falters or fails to entertain throughout its entire run time.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a veteran actor who first struck it big on a show called Bounty Law. Always by his side is Brad Pitt as his extremely loyal stuntman, Cliff Booth. Damn near joined at the hip, they traverse Dalton’s rollercoaster-like career through the years with Booth pretty much having to lift up a confidence struck Dalton on every job. Dalton drinks too hard and needs to be shuttled around everywhere, so Booth is there. TV antenna busts on the roof, Booth is there. He offers words of inspiration: “You’re Rick fucking Dalton. And don’t you forget it.” Booth is the kind of guy you’d like in your corner on your worst days. This on-screen relationship is quite something to behold because their marriage is the pairing you’d like to see a dozen more films of.
Leo gets to do so much in this film as we see the actual roles he plays from westerns to cop dramas to commercials and more, but we also see a man imploding as he tries to keep his career afloat. He is able to generate a performance that has many hills and valleys and he plays in them masterfully. This is heightened by a career-high performance from Brad Pitt. His Cliff Booth will be remembered long after he is gone, with a million car travel shots making him look like an icon and an even larger star than he already is. His devotion to Dalton is sincere, making him very likeable, but there is a dark undercurrent to him threatening to spill out under the right circumstances. Pitt is unreal in this film, truly carving out a landmark performance in his filmography and Tarantino’s.
Hollywood manages to sneak in a horror film in the middle of the picture as well, when Booth drops off Pussycat, a local hippie, to a broken down stunt ranch which has mutated into a commune for the Manson followers. It feels extremely dangerous and the tension of Cliff Booth “wanting to say hi to George” is nail biting. We know what the Manson loyalist were capable of doing and we are on edge the entire scene. It marks the only time the film is not flat out hilarious, making it stand out evermore. Plus it is vital to the film’s finale which I will let you experience for yourself. Just know that my audience gasped and yelled throughout that entire scene, making this middle chunk an important cog in the machinery.
Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate like a super sweet human being every single time she is on screen. The kind of sweetheart that would talk and embrace anyone, which I for one found respectful. Several times throughout the film we see Dalton superimposed onto classics like The Great Escape for example, but never with Margot Robbie. In one scene she goes to see her film The Wrecking Crew and Tarantino lets the film play out as is. No special FX trickery, just the real Sharon Tate doing her Bruce Lee choreographed fight scene. Again, respectful. This performance interwoven with the two males leads makes the picture sing and adds so much suspense as we ratchet towards the inevitable.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is yet another example of Tarantino’s passion for movies and all the parts that exist within them to make one a reality. His love for actors, his attention to detail with the millions of movie posters and theater marquees that litter Los Angeles, his craft throughout, proves that while he may be tough to listen to in interviews, the man cooks a great meal. There are the classic needle drops he is known for (which, by the way, buy the soundtrack, for there is no filler here)that blast the film forward, making moments ten times more memorable than they already are. He also just snaps around so deftly with amazing editing techniques. For example, during a conversation on set between Timothy Olyphant and Leonardo DiCaprio, the conversation skips around as if frames were missing from the reel. This is a deliberate move and a welcomed one that is similar to Death Proof theatrical cut that had the “This may have missing reels” prompt. There is also a moment where a character rides a horse through a western set, the camera dips low behind a porch fence and the horse and rider become the classic zoetrope image dating all the way back to the early 1800’s. (Just google “Zoetrope horse”, trust me.)
This flavoring throughout shows us a motion picture operated by a nut job who is detail heavy yet never ever forgets his actors within the bells and whistles. Hollywood is going to knock people out. One of Tarantino’s funniest films dipped in a familiar time of motion picture history and handled expertly on all fronts. It fits well in his filmography and while I’m not saying no one else could have made this, I don’t think anyone else could have nailed it. Even if you are not steeped in film lore, it still works as a ride at the movies you won't, or can't, erase from the memory banks. An embarrassment of riches, as they say.