You’ve seen the exhaustive ads, right? “Quentin Tarantino’s Ninth Film is finally here!” Period flick Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood barges into the cinemas with loads of panache and style on the surface, but little more underneath.
As the swinging ’60s in Hollywood come to a close, actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his sidekick, stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), contemplate their futures in an ever changing industry—and the business of Rick’s new neighbors, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate.
The film’s brilliance, if it has any, lies with its two leads. Every one of DiCaprio’s scenes are commanding; he chews scenery, upstages elders and literally incinerates people. Pitt is surely in top form as well, moving cooly and confidently from problem to problem.
Al Pacino also stands out as an influencer for Rick’s decision to jump on the Spaghetti Western train, but Mike Moh (Street Fighter: Resurrection) as Bruce Lee finds Lee’s accomplishments diminished in service of Tarantino’s creative
license. Unfortunately, Margot Robbie’s (Suicide Squad) Sharon Tate suffers from weaker writing than the dude characters, and almost every one of her scenes has her dancing, giving toothy grins, or—ahem—flexing her feet. And nothing else. It’s awkward watching a murdered actress be sexualized, and with the exception of Julia Butters (of TV’s American Housewife) as a fiery young starlet, almost every other woman comes off as an annoyance or an accessory.
Tarantino’s themes are consistent, regardless of how you feel about his material. What makes Hollywood’s last act so disappointing, though, is how Rick and Cliff finish their journeys. The explosive climax feels like the result of an “Oh boy am I great!” moment Tarantino had while writing rather than a meaningful conclusion. When Tate or, to a lesser extent, the Manson family are onscreen, they feel like a distraction from the narrative, making the almost three-hour runtime feel tedious; it’s more fun to cruise around the extinct 1960s environment with Cliff, or watch hungover Rick handle another villainous roll on a TV pilot.
As usual, Tarantino’s actors give 110%, and that effort can be seen and heard in every single frame. The cinematography is calm and engaging while the hip costumes and production design are loud and meticulous. Even musical selections draw smiles from jams that are as unique as Rick Dalton himself. A great element of Tarantino’s style is how he celebrates the importance of food and drink; it’s fascinating to see distinctions set in Rick and Cliff’s potent potables and snacks once in their own homes.
And then, Tarantino is one of the few directors left whose film debuts are still
cinematic events. You’ve seen at least one of his nine movies, and can probably list off scenes from another five. But as far as the ’60’s are concerned, truth is still stranger than his fiction.
+Leo and Brad's talents; immersive sets and sequences
-Quentin's ego inflating through the screen and overwhelming you
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
Directed by Tarantino
With DiCaprio, Pitt, Robbie, Pacino, Moh and Butters
Regal (both locations), Violet Crown, R, 161 min.