Now this is what I call a movie…if that makes any sense at all.
The latest and possibly penultimate film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood follows a former television star turned washed up actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his stunt double turned best buddy, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they navigate life in late 1960s Los Angeles. As Rick tries his best to reinvigorate his floundering acting career and Cliff tries his damndest to get back into the stuntman game, the duo are unknowingly swept up in the numerous events happening at the time including the Charlie Manson murders, the end of the golden age of Hollywood and the constant threat of those damn hippies ruining the L.A. area! What follows is an oddly quirky peek behind the curtain of a few days in the life of a handful of flawed individuals that are on a collision course with a bloody part of American history that the world will never forget.
I’ll be the first to admit, I like Quentin Tarantino movies just as much as the next guy, but I never really considered myself a fan of his work. Sure, I can recognize that he’s written and directed some of the best, most provocative and culturally seeped pieces of cinema in the history of Hollywood, but I’ve always felt the same about most of his stuff: his resume is full of fantastically written, directed and acted films that, quite simply, I just don’t care enough about to call any my favorites.
But now, with the release of Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, I can honestly say that even through its flaws and somewhat meandering script and overlapping storylines, this is the most enjoyable, entertaining and interesting film I’ve seen in a while, with the majority of Tarantino’s own work – past and most recent – included.
Structured around what is basically the story of the neighbors of the victims of the infamous Charlie Manson murders, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood strives to give audiences a tale that, oddly enough, doesn’t feel like anything important at first…or for a long time in fact. Instead of having a specific, grand point to everything that’s happening onscreen (other than the fact that we’re eventually going to see the Manson murders first hand), this film more than anything comes across as a slice of life tale that we just happen to be inserted into as we watch and observe a few of days in the life of a couple of struggling people who are just trying to navigate their lives with various levels of success. Granted, the entire through line of the film is more or less about DiCaprio’s character finding a way to become relevant again in the acting business, but as with a lot of the story beats in this film, that’s not entirely what this movie is about, and personally, I had no qualms with the approach.
Pitt and DiCaprio are positively fantastic in roles that compliment their acting styles while still giving each other a handful of moments to shine together, as well as apart. It really helps that the dialogue is as good as ever coming from Tarantino, so these guys are really able to cut loose and get into their characters whether they’re doing something important in regards to the story, or just shooting the shit driving around in Pitt’s car for the tenth time.
DiCaprio, as always, is extraordinary as down and out actor, Rick Dalton, imbuing his performance and character with a lot of depth even if Dalton himself isn’t as fleshed out of a character as one would hope given the amount of time we spend with him. Similarly, Brad Pitt has been sorely missed in the film landscape as of late, so to see him act toe to toe with DiCaprio and come across better than ever is truly a treat to see unfold. Again, and even with some great performances on both ends, DiCaprio’s and Pitt’s characters felt a little thin and unknown to me by the time the credits rolled, but that’s more of a nitpick in the grand scheme of the story being told more than anything else. Either way, their chemistry and the general dynamic between their characters stand tall as some of the most fun and enthralling acting I’ve seen in a while, so some of that can easily be forgiven.
Rounding out the leading cast is Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate who has noticeably less to do than the former two leads, but still manages to pull off some great, innocent acting as an up and coming actress who’s content at the way her life is turning out and just simply appreciates the ride she’s being taken on. I would have liked a little more lead up with her character going into the final stretch of the film where the Manson stuff happens, but even adding another ten minutes to the already almost three hour runtime might have been a bit much for people to stomach, even though I myself would have welcomed another twenty if only to stay in the experience a little longer. Throw in some stellar and surprising cameos from Tarantino’s past films as well as a handful of guest star roles turned in by newer and genre actors alike, and you have a film that has been cast with an eye on acting ability rather than star power, the results of which are riveting to watch onscreen to say the least.
Other than a few pacing issues and the feeling that I never got to truly know our protagonists, this film doesn’t have much wrong with it other than a couple nitpicks and the idea that there really isn’t too much of a point to it all. As mentioned before, the entire experience felt like we were simple observers to what was happening to these characters, and I was totally on board with that, so while that might be an issue for many, I personally loved it. Say what you will about the wacky ending and how it goes zero to sixty in the span of a few minutes, but that’s Tarantino for you, and I don’t think it’s worth being critical of that when he’s been doing that kind of shit for years.
While this might not be Tarantino’s best film, I myself couldn’t get enough of it. With a sense of fullness, fun and the simple idea that this is a type of film that we just don’t get anymore, One Upon A Time…In Hollywood is a wonderfully original experience that plays less like a full blown Tarantino film and more like a culmination of everything he’s ever done in his career as well as a love letter to various aspects of pop culture, film history, and the art of simply putting a handful of great actors together onscreen to do just that, act. The film itself might not have too much of a point in the grand scheme of the story or characters, but the slice of life vignettes of each character that funnels through a solid, quirky and interesting script as well as a sense of direction that is just plain entertaining, and you have a film that fells fresh and new in a world full of derivative movies and franchise behemoths. Here’s hoping Tarantino extends his planned directorial retirement past his next film and beyond.