Fading TV star Rick Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth, navigate through the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1968, attempting to stay relevant.
WARNING: Minor SPOILERS for Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood will be discussed. Therefore, if you want to enjoy this cinematic experience as Quentin Tarantino has wished for, close this page, go out and buy a ticket, enjoy (or not) all 161 minutes and then come back.
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It’s generally agreed upon that pizza is one of greatest inventions made by mankind and certainly one of its tastiest.
So after being asked several times recently whether I consider this to be Quentin Tarantino’s best film, I realized that picking a favorite of his would be like singling out a type of pizza from your favorite pizza place made by your favorite chef. They’re all special and unique in their own way and at the end of the day… it’s Pizza.
You see, Reservoir Dogs is the simple and classic with cheese, Pulp Fiction is the Pepperoni with extra cheese (Royale with cheese?), Jackie Brown is the divisive Hawaiian pizza, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 are the extra large pizzas that have a bunch of strange foreign ingredients you don’t even know how to pronounce but still love the taste of them, Inglourious Basterds is the thin crust traditional Italian pizza, Django Unchained is the Deluxe pizza – the one with peppers, mushrooms and olives – the and The Hateful Eight is the spicy Deluxe pizza.
Well, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is the specialty pizza, made at the 3 star restaurant by one of the most worldwide renowned chefs with ingredients like jamón serrano, blue cheese and truffle. The guy knows what he’s doing.
You can tell through every bite the amount of love, thought and passion the chef put behind his creation. After all, his whole career has led to this moment.
A fairy tale examination of fame, friendship, innocence and the harshness of the film/TV industry through the prism of the death of Hollywood’s golden age at the end of the 60’s, Tarantino tells his most personal story yet, utilizing every single skill, technique and reference stored in that encyclopedic brain of his to represent his love for the film industry and the people who make them possible.
Beware though, as this is closer in running time (161 minutes) and pace to The Hateful Eight, so the impatient may find this movie to be a test, but whereas the 2015 western was full of mean spirited bastards and an overall negative outlook on life, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is it’s exact opposite and the filmmakers most hopeful and positive film. Tarantino’s direction is also at his most secure and confident, taking risks by establishing long scenes that might appear to be meaningless only to have their real purpose emerge later, subverting expectations and using clever techniques to give an inside look into the process of shooting film and TV.
At the center of this examination are the fictional – yet inspired by several real people of the era – Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, respectively. Being best friends as well as employee and employer, with Booth working for Dalton as his stuntman as well as his errand boy, Tarantino builds a fascinating relationship between both men presenting them as two sides of the same coin.
DiCaprio is the highlight here as former TV star Rick Dalton who has now been reduced to thankless villains and secondary roles. DiCaprio’s brilliance lies in his playing a person who is concurrently giving a performance while shooting a TV show while also giving one in his everyday life, doing his best to hide his failures with Dalton’s suave, charming and confident exterior constantly being betrayed when a stutter starts showing the insecure, petty man child he is on the inside. It must also be said that few actors can make “bad” acting look this good.
Pitt on the other hand is the very epitome of “Cool” with the swaggering, tough and manly Booth and unlike Dalton, he’s accepted that his time to shine has past and is content with just being there for his friend. Although DiCaprio handles the majority of the story’s emotional depth, Pitt is surely to become the iconic element of the film just as much as Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta were in Pulp Fiction, with several memorable set pieces and some of the best lines of dialogue.
The third part of this examination is Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, the real life actress who met a tragic end at a young age. Criticism has fallen on Tarantino for appearing to objectify Tate as she is not given many lines in her already limited screen time. But as mentioned, this is a fairy tale and Tate plays the central role of a princess, more an angelical, mysterious and spiritual figure than the real life person she is based on and therefore expresses much more through her physicality than words. Given Robbie’s considerable talent, she doesn’t need to say much for us to feel for Tate.
There are some elements that we have come to expect from the director’s films and Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood excels at them: Scenes of swift and graphic violence (of which there are less than you would think), shots of feet (of which there may be more than we need), a delightful collection of 60’s pop and rock music, lengthy dialogues and a large cast of supporting characters.
One can imagine that virtually every living actor would love nothing more than to be in a Tarantino film and it appears that the director heard their prayers as Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is absolutely packed with amazing character actors of all ages, shapes, sizes and flavors.
Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Bruce Dern, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Scoot McNairy, Clifton Collins Jr, among others along with regulars Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell and Michael Madsen. Special mention should go to the young actress Julia Butters who shares one of the best scenes with DiCaprio, and if this is any indication of her future, Butters is an actress to keep an eye on.
No stranger to controversy or accusations of senseless violence, racism and sexism, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood may prove to be his most divisive yet (although not likely due to the first reason) with two scenes in particular coming under fire.
The first comes relatively early on in the film, when Booth is challenged to a fight by the legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. Without giving any spoilers, the director has been accused of misrepresenting Lee, turning him into a kind of racist joke. Although I can understand some people thinking this, the truth is that Tarantino is a huge Bruce Lee fanatic who would never want to disrespect his memory and the scene ultimately tells you much more about Booth than it does of Lee after taking into consideration how the sequence is framed.
The other part that has been criticized is the ending. And well… you’ll just have to see that for yourself as it really should be enjoyed with as little information as possible. I’ll only say that it’s certainly crazy but is consistent with the world and story that the director is presenting.
Tarantino has always established that he has 10 films in him before retiring, which means he has one left to deliver, but Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood’s technical prowess, striking imagery, spotless performances and powerful script would be the perfect ending to his iconic body of work.
Full of delicious dialogues, excellent performances and the director’s most personal and hopeful story, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s love for the film industry, L.A. and the 60’s distilled into a fine wine that’s poured on the screen for us to enjoy and another masterful stroke in his distinguished career.