Once Upon a Time in Hollywood marks the ninth film by the infamous and equally legendary director Quentin Tarantino. This is a film that reminds movie buffs and casual viewers alike what’s so special about going to the movies. Bold in nature, Hollywood successfully manages to merge the sensibilities of a Tarantino film with the dark and glamorous mythos of a mid to late century Los Angeles.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a TV actor whose major claim to fame was being the star in a Western show in the late 50s. Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt, is Rick’s rambunctious-but-good-natured best friend and stunt double. Together they set out to make what’s left of their careers count in a Hollywood that is a thing of the past.
This film captivated me from the start. It’s different from Tarantino’s other works yet retains a style that any fan of Tarantino films can identify. It is by far his most heartfelt and enduring film. I remember reading something about Tarantino admiring Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused and, if I’m not mistaken, identifying it as his favorite movie of all time. This film is very much in the same vein as Dazed and Confused – in essence, it’s a hangout movie. There are several scenes where characters just sit around and talk, and between the acting and witty dialogue there’s a lot to love here.
Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, an up and coming actress and eventual wife of director Roman Polanski. History has shown us the reality of her brutal fate, but Tarantino takes his liberties with the story in a way only Tarantino can. In terms of character development, Tate is more of a plot device used to propel the story forward for Pitt and DiCaprio’s characters – there are not many cathartic arcs for her character. Normally this would feel out of place, but, to Tarantino’s credit, it all feels very natural in this film. Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, and Timothy Olyphant all have minor roles in the film as well, each bringing a unique flair to their performances that aids in keeping viewers intrigued.
I was a little worried that this film would be a little too Manson-centric, so I was very pleased to find that what Tarantino offered the audience instead was a tasteful and balanced love letter to a golden era. The film itself is designed to enamor you with 1969 Hollywood as much as Tarantino is, and it does so wonderfully. Each scene shows perfect attention to detail and engages the senses extremely well, another trademark of Tarantino direction and editing. The pacing feels a little off in the second act, but even the most boring aspects of a Tarantino film aren’t really boring at all. The film hits all the points it needed to hit and was an entertaining journey from the first frame to the last; the soundtrack is top notch, too.
Personally, this may be my favorite Tarantino film, but it’s also worth noting I may be a little biased based on the subject matter. It’s hard not to walk out of a film like this with a refreshed mindset on what small obstacles genre limitations are for a director like Tarantino. Films like this one and Midsommar really breathe life into the art form of filmmaking and make going to the movies an experience; they challenge genre limitations and allow runtimes which create a universe of their own. I really don’t think I have the authority to give this film a score but take my word on it – it’s damn good.