Once Upon a Time In Hollywood review: "It’s an exciting, bizarre, curious film that isn't 'just another Tarantino movie'."
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Summer, 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is fading star making a living appearing as the “villain of the week” on an assortment of so-so TV shows, a far cry from his best days as the hero lead of ‘50s western Bounty Law.
Supporting him, driving him, pretty much doing everything for him bar pour drinks into his mouth is his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), whose dark past have stopped him from getting much work of late.
Living next door to Rick in the Hollywood hills is rising star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whose new movie The Wrecking Crew is currently showing in the cinema down the road.
In this, the ninth film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino, we spend a few days in Los Angeles just as the sweetness of the ‘60s is about to sour forever as Charlie Manson and the rest of his “family” loom large over the city of angels.
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If you're looking for a plot… maybe don’t. This is a “hang out” movie, an enjoyably indulgent trip to the past for Quentin Tarantino. It's full of well-shot, well-directed, well-acted scenes in and around Hollywood at a time when things were good. The pleasure you’ll take from this is not in the telling of a story per se, or in how the action zigs and zags a la Reservoir Dogs, or in “What happens next?!” or “How will our heroes survive?!”, but more in the mood, in the music, in the dialogue, in the characters. It’s… a grower.
It’s all very well done – slick and knowing and pleasingly bizarre – but I wouldn’t call it “easy” or “accessible”. The first time I watched it, I wasn’t sure I “got” it. As the days passed, I started reading through the many, many think pieces written around this film (and there really are quite a lot), my desire to rewatch it grew and I realised just how much there is to this movie. This film is about: the end of an era, the loss of innocence, friendship, rumours, self-loathing, ego, artifice… so in short, if you’re in tune to what’s on the screen, there’s plenty to enjoy.
This isn't one of Tarantino’s genred pieces – though QT does have plenty of fun recreating shlocky TV shows from back in the day – and if you're expecting another Kill Bill or a Inglourious Basterds, curb your enthusiasm on that front. This is a slow, funny, dark, more mature work from the writer-director, with an absolute kicker of an ending for those in the know. And with that in mind (without trying to give too much away), I sincerely implore you to take a quick trip to Wikipedia and look up “Tate murders” before you head into the cinema.
Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant in this movie. They’re all good, but Leo really does wonders with the drunken fragile egotist that is Rick Dalton, giving so many layers to a man who at first glance is just a full-of-it has-been who doesn’t deserve a single break. With Leo in the role, you’re just fascinated with this B-movie wannabe who’s unable to come to terms with who he is in the twilight of his career. There are some scenes “on set” that are a pure delight, others I’d have personally cut down, but Leo… Leo’s good. You heard it here first, I know.
This film is very Quentin Tarantino, for good and ill. For starters, it’s actively provocative on a number of occasions, and depending on your tastes, it could really get your back up. And again, if you want a plot, you will be let down in that department. There’s an indulgence here that’s indulgent even for a Tarantino movie, a sense that as a writer and a director, he’s just enjoying this opportunity to do what he wants, how he wants, when he wants, and with a budget that does it justice. No-one else would have the courage or the imagination, or, let’s be honest, the desire to make a movie like this one.
It’s an exciting, bizarre, curious film that refuses to be “just another Tarantino movie”. He could have picked up another B-movie genre and given it a QT spin, but no, here’s your hangout ‘60s TV industry film about nothing and everything at the same time. You will have to do your own work to get what’s good out of this movie. This isn’t a film that just fires itself at you as you sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s a slow and odd and rambling mood piece, art out of lowbrow art.
There is a sense that no-one told Tarantino “no” when this film was made. For many, that’s a great thing, for some, perhaps you’ll be desperate for his direction to have a bit more direction. But that ending… the ending I can’t really talk about… it's going to make you think.