Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant
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…shaggy and indulgent, but also complex and fascinating, and offers an utterly unique experience for those willing to embrace its meandering charms.
Throughout his illustrious career, Quentin Tarantino has taken cinema audiences to some crazy places. From sub-basement rape dungeons (Pulp Fiction) to cinemas soaked in Nazi blood (Inglourious Basterds) to isolated cabins in apocalyptic snowstorms (The Hateful Eight), Tarantino is a master of extreme mise-en-scène. It’s somewhat surprising then that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes place mostly in the sun-drenched Los Angeles of 1969, and is quite possibly his mellowest and most thoughtful effort since 1997’s Jackie Brown.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is essentially the story of two men, actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman/driver/bestie Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). For much of its 161 minute runtime, Hollywood tracks the various adventures – positive and negative – of these two blokes, focusing heavily on Dalton’s dismaying realisation that his time in the sun is over.
Dalton has gone from leading man in movies to guest baddie on television shows, and he feels his best days are behind him. Booth meanwhile is having trouble booking work because of some incidents in his past, but he has been catching the eye of a winsome hippie beauty called Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), who seems to be hanging out with a bunch of friends at the Spahn Ranch…
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is easily Quentin Tarantino’s most personal movie. It’s essentially a tale of men whose time has passed, watching cinema change and evolve in ways that no longer includes them.
As we follow Rick and Cliff, we’ll watch movies being shot, lines being rehearsed and beautiful women like Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) sitting in gape-mouthed worship of the silver screen.
Tarantino, a director who claims to be at the tail end of his own career, has crafted a loving tribute to an idealised version of Hollywood, and indeed Los Angeles in general, at one of its most exciting, notorious times in history.
For the most part it works beautifully, but it should be noted that Hollywood is also one of Tarantino’s most indulgent films, feeling like the work of a writer/director who did not hear the word “no” once during production.
Expect long, lingering takes, extended sequences of people driving while listening to music, shot after shot of ladies’ bare feet and – of course – sudden, shocking graphic violence in the final reel. It’s a film that would prefer to hang out, smoke cigarettes and shoot the shit rather than leap ahead to the next plot point, so if you’re looking for the mounting tension of Inglourious Basterds you’ll likely be disappointed.
Unsurprisingly, Hollywood is a wonderful showcase of performances. DiCaprio’s Dalton is a bratty manchild whose struggles with impending irrelevance are nonetheless completely compelling. Even better is Brad Pitt whose turn as Booth is easily one of his best ever, bringing an appealing, laconic muscularity to the character. Margot Robbie is also decent as Sharon Tate but the script doesn’t give her a lot to do, making her more of a symbol of the era rather than a compelling character in her own right. Naturally, there are cameos galore, including Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant and Bruce Dern to name but three, all of whom bring their A-game to the smaller parts.
Ultimately, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s wistful tribute to an era that no longer exists, and to flawed but heroic men who probably never did. It’s shaggy and indulgent, but also complex and fascinating, and offers an utterly unique experience for those willing to embrace its meandering charms.
This is Tarantino’s fairy tale, a bit of revisionist history and sublime nostalgia all at once, and though the journey is long, it’s absolutely one worth taking if only to see if these fascinating creatures of the silver screen can find their ‘happily ever after’.