Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

SONY PICTURES RELEASING (2019)

 

Director: Quentin Tarantino

 

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Al Pacino

The end of the golden age…

 

Actually, once The Exorcist was released, everything else paled in comparison. Four years on since the slightly divisive The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino is back with his particular brand of cinema with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – a fairy tale set in the waning days of Hollywood’s golden age back in 1969. First and foremost, obviously QT has assembled a monstrously talented cast of big stars and frequent collaborators so the star power is back, however, this is apparently his penultimate movie so is he starting his farewell lap with a bang?

Once Upon a Time… follows aging TV actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Pitt) as they traverse the changing faces of Hollywood as cinema, movie tastes and cultures all change around them whilst the next big thing, Sharon Tate (Robbie), lives just next door. Two macho men trying to cling on whilst everything around them shifts, moreso Dalton, but a darker undercurrent that has infiltrated Hollywood begins to rear its head – disaffected youths guided by Charles Manson. With two-hours-forty-five minutes to fill, QT takes his time to pad out his story with various narratives running concurrently – Dalton, Cliff, Tate, Manson all have stories to tell and connect – and it mostly works, which is the first “phew!” moment. Secondly, the movie doesn’t try to glorify the Manson family or their acts as other movies have tended to do – they are used as a symbol of a rotten undercurrent to the schmaltzy, faux Hollywood image. The core of the movie, however, is the relationship between Rick and Cliff – two buddies who have stuck together through the tough times (Rick’s career is going south and Cliff has never had one, plus rumours swirl that he may have killed his wife) – the two ooze with that old school masculinity and raw macho-ness and DiCaprio and Pitt are excellent individually and as a pair. Both have their own narratives and development which is wholly satisfying to watch. Robbie’s Tate is sweet, captivating and engrossing though her screentime is limited (rightly, also). A whole host of Tarantino alumni appear and everyone is solid in their respective roles, especially Qualley as a Manson cult member and Mike Moh pulling off a dead-on Bruce Lee performance in one of the movie’s stand-out scenes.

 

Compared to QT’s previous output, Once Upon a Time… isn’t quite as punchy or memorable, to be blunt. It’s a lot more patient in its approach and slightly less showy – though that approach benefits the movie in the long run. What you do get is the standard QT tropes that appear in each of his movies, from character placements to camera techniques, this is still clearly a QT movie. Also, the shifting tones and vibes feel nice and familiar too as QT looks to subvert the experience where possible leading up to its explosive final act which (weirdly) had my audience in raptures. The cinematography is great and the filmmakers really captured the look of the time period as well – there’s certainly nothing wrong with the technical aspects. The real key issue is, despite the story being engaging, the movie is too long, which is an issue that QT movies struggle with at times. A long movie isn’t a problem, but parts of Once Upon a Time… feel overdrawn or certain shots feel unnecessarily long for stylistic sake. Some harsher editing would have helped overall.

 

Ultimately, if Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s penultimate movie, then it’s certainly not a bad one at all. It’s not his best, but it’s still damn good. Pitt and DiCaprio are explosive together and Tarantino’s ode to the Hollywood of old scores big for the majority of its overly long runtime.

Also, what a great poster!

August 7th 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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