Let me take you back to 1969 when hippies were around every corner, westerns were one of the most popular movies to make, and Hollywood was one of the biggest places to be for an actor. It was also the year that the infamous Manson family murders took place, led by one of the evilest cult leaders in history — Charles Manson. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we go back to that time, but with a Tarantino spin on things, and although this may not be his best film, it is certainly a very good one — with some errors — but even a good Tarantino film is better than some other director’s best.
The story looks at actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double/best friend Cliff Booth as Rick tries to grapple with the idea of his failing stardom. Once known for his big-time action movies with loads of shooting, he is now forced to TV shows, and while some were good for him, he eventually gets stuck as one-and-done villains. The story is definitely slow, but it was Rick and Cliff that hooked me from the beginning to the end, especially when the story explores the idea of perception and identity. Sharon Tate may not have been the main focus of the story, but the use of the Manson family is really smart. Everybody views everybody differently based on past story and roles taken on in different productions, and so Sharon Tate being this really bubbly, perky person showed an innocence that juxtaposed nicely with Rick Dalton. Rick questioning who he really is, is set up greatly at the beginning and it leads up to an awesome scene with Rick Dalton holding a little girl hostage for one of his shows.
The performances are outstanding across the board with Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth being standouts. Their on-screen chemistry is excellent, and you buy their long history of working together and creating a deep friendship. The actors said that Tarantino came to them with pages and pages of notes on the backstory of these fictional characters, allowing them to fully flesh out their already great chemistry. DiCaprio just chews up the scenes he’s in and has lots of funny moments, whether it’s him freaking out in his trailer or the scene I talked about previously; no matter what, he’s outstanding. Brad Pitt has the most action on screen and also brings a lot of humor to the movie. His character is a lot quieter than Rick, but as the stunt man, he brings a physicality to the role in two scenes that I will not spoil. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, and although she doesn’t have a huge role in the movie, and isn’t the main focus, she’s great and brings a ray of sunshine to her scenes. I loved the scene where she goes to watch her own movie at the theater as she was able to portray so much while saying very little.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s ninth directed film and he’s a master behind the camera. He knows how to shoot a damn good movie with layers and write scripts with incredibly smart dialogue and deep characters. Although I feel this isn’t his strongest film, it’s still got his fingerprints all over it, and feels like one of his movies. I do feel there was a lack of tension in some of the scenes between characters, and I didn’t quite get some until Cliff meets the Manson family. Also, I feel the movie dragged around the halfway point and some things could’ve been either cut or shortened. I asked where this movie was going a lot, and although I was happy with where it ended up with a completely bonkers finale, I feel a second viewing would be beneficial for fully seeing characters grow. I feel it’s important to know going in that the movie does not focus on the Manson family and Sharon Tate, but Tarantino uses them smartly as part of his themes of perception and identity. But with any Tarantino film, you can expect some brilliant camera work and the use of aspect ratios is great as well as the way we see the TV shows being filmed. You can tear apart every scene, and the level of detail put into every shot is all very Tarantino.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is another excellent addition to Quentin Tarantino’s filmography. The film might feel a tad too long to some, as it does drag a bit during the halfway point, and I could use some more tension in the dialogue, but you get everything you’d normally expect out of a Tarantino film. Brilliant directing and outstanding acting with deep characters mixed with good themes benefit with multiple viewings. It’s a very dialogue-driven movie in the same way Pulp Fiction is, which is fine, but it never quite reaches the level of some of his best.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
Although not his best film, with a slow second act and a lack of tension in the dialogue, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is still another excellent film from the masterclass director. The performances from DiCaprio and Pitt are outstanding and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them got an award nomination this time out. The themes are interesting and the time period is very well realized. The movie is smartly directed and I highly recommend checking this one out as long as you know Sharon Tate and the Manson family are not the focus.