“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”- Movie Review

There are many ways to describe Quentin Tarantino’s films: brash, sharp-tongued, witty, bloody, grandiose. No matter the adjective, the one thing we can all agree on is that the man has consistently delivered. And now with his (supposed) retirement approaching, the question is whether or not his latest project would be able to pack as big a punch as his past work.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino’s ninth feature film, winds back the clock to 1969 Los Angeles, and focuses on a variety of characters- both real and fictional- as they try navigating the peaks and valleys of the changing Hollywood industry. One of whom is Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a seasoned television actor who’s struggling to stay afloat after the cancellation of his long-running western series. Having hoped to break out into films, Dalton finds himself stuck in the unsatisfying routine of making one-shot appearances on other shows. Things are not much easier for his close friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who can barely find work. As both men try to survive in Hollywood, they come across a slew of soon-to-be legends and unknowingly get tangled up in a much darker fate.

One of the first thing you may notice in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is how cool, calm and collected the tone is….at least for the most part. Quentin Tarantino’s style is often pretty bombastic, full of swearing and unapologetic violence. Save for the last fifteen/twenty minutes or so, this is probably the least outrageous movie he’s made in a long time. Much of the focus lies in the recreation of the late-60s Hollywood era. Many moments linger on simple things- driving along the sun-washed LA streets with advertisements blaring through the radio, black-and-white episodes of old 60s TV shows playing on the televisions, going to a movie theater. This can make the film seem slow and drawn-out to some audiences. For me personally, the slower scenes were never boring. Tarantino transported me to this world, and by the end of the film, I wasn’t quite ready to leave it.

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It would be cliche to say that Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio give fantastic performances, but not saying so would be a disservice. Their relationship outshines everything else in this movie. It’s the reason you’re hooked and the reason you stay invested. Margot Robbie gives a fine, hopeful performance as Sharon Tate. As a character, she doesn’t have much to do. She never really interacts with Pitt’s and DiCaprio’s characters, and although you get a good sense of her personality through her body language, it never goes skin deep. She’s treated as an icon, but we never get a sense of who she is as a person.

Something that might turn a lot of people off is the film’s plot. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof. The movie doesn’t operate on a plot. It’s driven purely by the characters, focusing on their encounters in the changing Hollywood landscape. Because of that, the film meanders during certain beats.And given the film clocks in at a whopping two hours and forty minutes, the meandering can feel unbearable to some. But if you’re invested from beginning to end, like me, the movie feels like it doesn’t even pass the two hour mark.

If I had to rank Once Upon a Time in Hollywood against the other Tarantino films, I’d have to put it somewhere in the middle. It’s an expertly-crafted movie, filled with solid performances and probably the most cathartic third act I’ve seen in a film so far this year. It showcases a more tranquil side of Tarantino, and exists as a genuine love letter to a classic era in Hollywood. I just wish it had a little more meat to its story. As is, it’s a fun and a worthy addition to the Tarantino lineup. 

Cosmic Grade- 4/5 Stars

 

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