Director Quentin Tarantino is well known for his language and excessive violence-based movies. All one needs to do is look at some of his earlier works such as Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction to really get an understanding of how over-the-top they really can be. So, when I saw the initial previews for his latest dramatic comedy Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I wasn’t sure what to expect. This only fueled the expectation and interest I had going into the film.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes place in 1969 near the end of the golden age of Hollywood. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an aging star of Westerns trying to desperately remain relevant in a world that considers those even in their 30’s as ancient, much like the black and white film common even to that day. His stuntman and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is happy to go along for the ride. More of an assistant and better known as the man who got away with killing his own wife, Cliff is content with his role in the world and isn’t looking for the next big break.
You can’t have a Hollywood story in 1969 without involving one of the most brutal murders of the time, that of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and the now infamous Charles Manson and his “family”. A dark cloud that would leave a lasting mark on Hollywood itself. Their presence reminds us of the chilling reality to the evil that is lurking just outside the amazing set pieces and bright lights of the city itself.
Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio do a phenomenal job as one would expect. It’s always interesting to watch a movie where the actor is portraying another character in an entirely different movie and Leonardo delivers in spades. Brad Pitt brings his usual lovable charm to the otherwise tough persona as Cliff, the dog loving, Bruce Lee ass kicking sidekick. The chemistry between the two is undeniable, displaying both touching and comedic undertones throughout. It’s almost surreal to think that they are portraying characters that do represent themselves in the real world. It’s hard not to make the comparison of Brad and Leo to their onscreen characters, as aging stars wondering what the future holds for them.
Tarantino does a marvelous job of transporting his viewers back to 1969. Everything from episodes of old television shows, to advertisements on the street envelop the viewers in the tie-dyed/hippy reality of what the 60’s was. It’s hard not to be impressed with the cinematography that has been so lavishly recreated before us. The streets, the cars, even the film itself all take their cues from the time period. Car scenes are shot with laughably fake backdrops at times to remind us exactly the types of effects that went into filming back in the day. It’s a mix of old school and new school filming that takes you from one reality and places you in another. Tarantino does his best to make the audience more than spectators to what is developing on screen and instead as active participants.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a fairytale of sorts, of what made Hollywood so special back in the 60’s. It lacks much of the brutal nature that has become second nature to Tarantino films, and those who are going to see it for its brutality will likely be very disappointed. It’s a film that is incredibly difficult to talk about without spoilers, because outside the general plot synopsis the viewer is left with more questions than answers. The film is long, coming in at two hours and forty minutes, and there are scenes that tend to drag on a little longer than necessary. Thankfully though, Tarantino has weaved a story of what was and what could have been, if Rick and Cliff both had existed…Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
4 out of 5 stars
Second review by Lucas Wunch
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood consists of three love stories and a flamethrower.
Quentin Tarantino is best known for two things: violence and dialogue. So when I entered the theater to see his latest film, I didn’t expect to be presented with a 2 hour and 45 minute buddy picture involving two men coming to terms with life past their prime. I expected someone to eloquently meet the business end of a baseball bat. Nevertheless, the picture I received told a beautiful and sad story that must have come from the heart. Because it was quite clearly about Tarantino himself.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. An aging Western film star and his equally aging stuntman/driver/enabler. Their relationship tells the first love story. Originally born of necessity (Booth becomes Dalton’s driver after one too many DUIs), their friendship is the emotional heart of the film with each showing a level of support well beyond that of a typical entourage. There are a number of scenes included where each of the two are shown to go above and beyond in helping the other to stay afloat. And they are both certainly struggling to stay afloat. As Rick’s celebrity fades, opportunities are also running out for Cliff; in part due to his unwillingness to change with the times.
This leads us to the second love story: that of Rick and his own legacy. Perhaps the most poignant theme of film because of how it may relate to Tarantino’s own life. It’s acknowledged early and often that Rick isn’t quite the star he used to be. One of the opening scenes features Al Pacino (playing an agent named Schwarz) schooling DiCaprio on the slow decline of his professional worth. The result of this lecture is tears on the part of DiCaprio as he is offered the chance to star in some “Eye-talian” spaghetti westerns. Many are acknowledging the distinct possibility that these realizations by Rick are actually Tarantino coming to terms with his own slow decline and the idea of his own irrelevance in a changing cinematic landscape. This resonates even more with the addition of Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) moving in right next door to Rick.
The final love story here is between Cliff and himself. Even at his age, Cliff manages to exude a debonair attitude that surrounds him like a thick fog. Although he recognizes that patience for his “too cool for school” attitude is starting to wear thin, he can’t seem to let go of his ego, even when it costs him good opportunities. At one point the audience is treated to one of his flashbacks where he manages to rough up Bruce Lee on set, a feat so impressive that the audience is left wondering if it was even real or if it was just his own narcissistic imagination run amok. While managing to steal nearly every scene he’s in, one thing eventually becomes clear: in order to progress beyond his present status, Cliff needs to step down from his high horse.
All three of these love stories are elegantly woven into a 2 hour and 20 minute side story surrounding the Sharon Tate murders. And throughout this long (and frankly a little slow) journey you’re left wondering what happened to the Quentin Tarantino that had Travolta cleaning blood out of the back of a car or George Clooney fighting off Mexican vampires. However, after all of that ambling retrospection and personal growth, Tarantino manages to throw the audience a bone with a final crescendo of ultra violence (including the aforementioned flamethrower). So if you plan on seeing this film for all of the elements you would consider classic Quentin, don’t worry, they are certainly there. But if you’re looking for something new and interesting from this seasoned director, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
4 stars out of 5