REEL Review – Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (2019)

Director: Quentin Tarantino | Runtime: 2h 41min | Comedy, Drama

Late 1960’s and fading TV Western actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) alongside his personal stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) are struggling to make their way in the ever changing landscape of Hollywood. Meanwhile, rising female star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) becomes neighbours with Dalton, and relishes in the success of her early career.

As the advertised 9th film of modern auteur Quentin Taratino we expect a certain level of unique quality from the Tennessee born writer/director. Even though his features have covered a diverse range of genres, from Western to Blaxploitation, they’ve always had his Tarantino style that makes them like no other, and this most recent outing is no different.

It seems fitting that after a career of creating films paying homage to Hollywood that his most recent is entirely based around classic tinsel town and plays like a love letter to the end of the golden era. In a very Tarantino-esque way, he not only takes on the fictional narrative of the waning acting career but down route leading to the attack on the Polanski-Tate residence, leading to the then murder of Tate and three others, all orchestrated by Charles Manson.

Stepping away from the likes of The Hateful Eight (2015) and Django Unchained (2012) and more into the realms of his earlier work, Tarantino plays with the linear narrative by intersecting longer sequences, usually once a character is thinking of that particular occurrence, such as the reason why stuntman Cliff Booth might struggle to get work with a certain stunt co-ordinator, involving the sequence containing a controversial depiction of Bruce Lee, as well as many hugely entertaining snippet’s from Dalton’s early career in war films. With this, he plays the story of Tate and Polanski moving in and both finding success in their respective talents, the former having pure joy in her early successful years providing us with not only a hopeful beacon in otherwise bleak surroundings, but some of the most gratifying work Robbie has done so far.

Despite how much she lights up the screen every time she’s present, Robbie doesn’t quite match the scene stealing power Pitt brings (and really isn’t given enough of a chance to steal the show with fairly sparse screen-time). Arguably his best performance since the last time he and Tarantino collaborated for Inglorious Basterds (2009), Pitt oozes easy charisma and machismo, the sort of ruff handyman you might expect from a 60’s Western stuntman. Whether he’s on a roof reminiscing of the Bruce Lee sparring match or smoking an acid dipped cigarette, little phasing Cliff, and Pitt with the poise only gained from many years of experience in the industry.

He bouncesoff his leading man in DiCaprio superbly, the two showing some of the easiest chemistry in recent memory. Here is where the films shines the most, in the close-friend, almost buddy-cop-like relationship with the two struggling in the industry quickly leaving them behind. Dalton tries to get Booth work where he can, but after the questionable death of his wife and many suspecting the widower, he struggles to get him anymore than being his personal handyman and driver.

If you’re wondering, though, how this intersects with the Tate murders, you’ll start to hone in on the major issue as to why this isn’t in the top tier of Tarantino’s filmography. Although every beat he hits throughout is entertaining, it doesn’t always feel necessary, and much like the criticisms for his last two features it feels like it could have benefitted from more narrative tightening, or another cut in the editing room. The first hour almost crawls in comparison to the following hour and forty minutes, and with such a hefty runtime it does bring into question whether that much of a setup is needed.

In comparison to the rest of the film though, this is a minor blip, as he creates such a rich and vibrant world around the three main centrepieces in DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie that staying with them doesn’t strike much of a negative chord. In the most Tarantino way, he makes unexpected genius out of the simplest sequences, potentially the highlight of the entire piece (depending in your opinions of the climax) is Dalton onset for one episode of a successful Western TV show in which he plays a evil contrast to the shows lead. The pacing, the acting, cinematography, dialogue all harkens back to the same quality from the early scenes of Inglorious Basterds in which SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) questions whether a French farmer is sheltering Jewish refugees. It may not have the life and death stakes that the War War II film may have, but it’s unique tension in which we are so rooting for Dalton to succeed, every time he has a misstep the passion inside him to reclaim the former glory he dearly misses stoked that bit further – this is why Tarantino is so fondly thought of.

It is difficult to discuss the ending without ruining it, and it’s never worth ruining the climax of a film in a spoiler-free review, but what can be said is that those who love Tarantino’s style will surely appreciate the closing sequences, although it can be said that though it’s entertaining it doesn’t feel narratively suited to the rest of the film, and maybe out-of-place in a story that mostly centres around a fading acting career juxtaposed with a climbing fresh one.

When the credits roll, no matter your opinion on the climax or the length, everyone will be in agreement with the same thing – Tarantino most certainly has a foot fetish. Hugely more present than any other film he’s ever done, many scenes wonderfully framed other than a character with dirty bare feet in centre of the screen. I’m not here to question ones likes or dislikes, but unfortunately it’s very distracting for some otherwise highly entertaining sequences.

Another incredibly well crafted film from one of the most unique working talents, and arguably his most mature outing as a filmmaker yet, it’ll feel right at home with many of Tarantino’s best works, but feels one step away from the highest tier of his filmography.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

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