A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.
Quentin Tarantino has built quite the reputation over the years for his outlandish and outright irresponsible yet delightful violent movies. Whether it be Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, or Inglorious Bastards, Tarantino knew how to make a masterpiece out of a bloodbath. That is why when the trailer came out for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood I felt a bit reserved. Here was a film that had all the talent (Brad Pitt, Leonardo Di Caprio, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, etc.) but yet had none of Tarantino’s signature violence. It was difficult to see if there was even a story to the film itself. Rather than a return to form, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood appeared to be an experimentation, going one step further than The Hateful Eight into different mediums of expression, less guns blazing and more subtle tension. Was Tarantino capable of such a feat?
Albeit lengthy with its 2 hour and 40 minute runtime and arguably pointless, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is a true marvel to watch, Tarantino’s mise-en-scène of 1960’s Hollywood is a world you want to immerse yourself in as you watch your classic A Star Actors be … regular people. And for those worried about Tarantino going soft, fear not for not even Quentin’s new diet can prevent him from indulging in an all-out gore fest in the end.
It’s hard to talk about Once Upon A Time’s story other than describing as a fanciful counter-factual plot of the Manson murders. However even such a description would do injustice to the film as Tarantino uses the plot as more of an excuse than as a selling point, to write his love letter to the golden era of Hollywood. The film is structured in 3 somewhat inter-connected stories: a narcissistic actor facing the reality that his career may have already reached a peak, his happy camper stunt double, and a rejuvenated Sharon Tate enjoying newfound stardom. The film can feel stretched out at times, lacking clear linear structure or any moral to its story, undoubtedly leaving some moviegoers frustrated. However, if you can look beyond that, you will find joy in watching Di Caprio’s impromptu mannerisms to his narcissistic Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s cooler than life persona, but more importantly you find that their bond of friendship is real. None of it feels rehearsed, let alone acted, it all just feels… normal. I was surprised at how drawn I was to each scene, without worrying about when the climax is going to come or when the big action scene is going to be.
And this seamlessness would not be possible without Brad Pitt and Leonardo Di Caprio, two juggernauts who prove why they are worthy of such titles. Other notable stars such as Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, and Damian Lewis make appearances but have mostly supporting if not cameo roles. It is no doubt the Pitt and Di Caprio duo, who make a scene of themselves watching themselves on TV worthy of going to the cinema to watch, that carry this film.
It goes without saying, however, that Tarantino’s carefully curated production design and soundtrack really help bring 1960s Hollywood alive. His exploration of different camera angles and stretched out scenes are both nerving yet exciting.
When you think Tarantino and Manson, you would expect a blood-fest of the decade. However, the final product is a delightful surprise, albeit an acquired taste. If you are looking just to be entertained, probably skip this one, but if you are looking to appreciate the art of filmmaking, book your tickets now.
- Pitt and Di Caprio Chemistry
- Tarantino's Filmography
- Production Design of 90s Hollywood
- Lack of Moral Message
- Long Run-Time