Don’t expect much of a plot in this one, however, Tarantino devotees and/or film purists will find a lot to adore in the acclaimed director’s latest, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.
The late 60’s-set Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood follows the story of fading actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton, once a famous TV western star, has decided to drop television and give movies a shot. To his dismay, it’s not as easy as it seems, as the actor struggles to find his footing in the industry while simultaneously having to deal with insecurity issues. His long-time pal, Booth, is tied to Dalton’s hip, so he too faces his own struggles along the way, but is generally more than happy to go along for the ride. Running parallel to this narrative (if you can call it that) is the story of young up-and-coming actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her inner-circle of friends, as she tries to make a name for herself in Hollywood. Tate’s story is synonymous with the Manson Family and their horrific crimes, which also serves as an undercurrent story-arc in the film.
Tarantino’s 9th film plays out more like a series of scenes that don’t always feel like they have any consequential value. Audiences may ask themselves at different parts of the film, “what was the point of that?”. Well, that type of question from viewers would be a big detriment to the work from the hands of a less experienced director. Fans of Tarantino’s work will appreciate this type of storytelling, where each scene has a certain element of quirkiness to it as it develops its characters. It’s the non-fans that might struggle with it, however, as the first couple of hours of the film will feel like a slog for anyone that’s unfamiliar with the director’s style (the last 40 minutes, though, will have you sweating). Despite that, each scene is phenomenally performed by its actors. Whether you love or hate the director, one thing that’s undeniable is that he knows how to get the best out of his cast.
The pairing of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio is a dream come true for 90’s film fans and the two iconic actors have not lost any of their touches. DiCaprio, in particular, once again shows some remarkable acting skills. Their characters are opposites, yet the same, in that they’re both on a similar career path just at different levels, making for a good balance between DiCaprio’s egotistical and emotional Dalton, and Pitt’s laid back, go-with-the-flow Booth. The chemistry between the actors feels natural and unforced, making for one of the better cinematic pairings in any film to date. Likewise, Margot Robbie has just kept getting better and better at her craft and fits right in alongside these two Hollywood heavyweights. The rest of the supporting cast features a whos-who of Hollywood talent, Tarantino alumni and otherwise. There’s too many to speak of but again, they’re all great. Mike Moh’s rendition of Bruce Lee is memorable and makes for one of the funnier scenes in the film.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood feels like the type of film that Tarantino could only have made at this point in his career. There really isn’t much to it, though it subverts expectation like nothing else, which is something the director is a master at. Rather than going for a more traditional narrative (which virtually doesn’t exist in Tarantino’s world), the director has opted to portray a fantastical account of the nature of the movie business, with scenes that feel like they belong on a stage instead of in front of a camera, all set in a time where social change was in full effect (the hippie era challenging traditional values, much to the dislike of Dalton). The hippie element is portrayed as a normal sign of the times in the film and considering the subjects chosen to represent that sub-culture, brings with it an impending sense of doom throughout most of the film. You know something malicious is coming, but you’ll have to get through the tedious parts first before the payoff arrives (it’s totally worth the wait).
This won’t be Tarantino’s most popular movie and probably isn’t his best, but it’s clear to see that the director and actors have given it their all. The film feels self-indulgent, for sure, but this is Tarantino at his most refined, for better or worse.
Margot Robbie, who portrays Sharon Tate, wears some of Sharon Tate’s real jewellery. Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra, gave Robbie the jewellery to wear.