Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood Review

An unbroken streak

by Casimir Harlow
Movies & TV Review

72

Unmissable
Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood Review

Hop to

Tarantino's 9th is one of the biggest event movies of 2019, a classically styled and suitably epic ode to Hollywood, riding high on its DiCaprio/Pitt bromance.

Sure it's a bit of a fudge given The Whole Bloody Affair has never actually been released, but clearly Tarantino has spoken and now it's official - this is his 9th film, and his 10th will supposedly be his last (although he could probably fudge that by making a sequel to a previous film, and then saying that doesn't count either).

Certainly the last three decades have been an interesting time with the filmmaker, with a striking debut in Reservoir Dogs, and a career-defining sophomore outing with Pulp Fiction, making something of a magnum opus in his Kill Bills, then venturing through WWII for Inglourious Basterds before hitting the Wild West for his latest two, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood would be a fine and fitting way to round out his career, but upon his insistence that there's only 9 films on his resume, we still have the opportunity to see what Tarantino might do with a film not set in the past, and maybe even set in the future.

For all those that revere Tarantino, there's no doubt that his style of incessant campfire dialogue, pop culture references and basically stealing every memorable moment of every one of his productions from another film - stretching the word homage more painfully than Van Damme's splits - has engendered a certain amount of animosity over the years, not to mention his penchant for writing casual, so-called "justifiable", racist dialogue, and whatever controversies that ensued courtesy of his rough-and-ready behaviour towards women (from which Uma Thurman is reportedly still suffering).

Yet, the man is still a master. He may not have created an unequivocal masterpiece since Pulp Fiction, but he's made some truly unmissable movies in his career, distinctive, stylish, raw and largely defying of the Hollywood movie machine - he's just about the only mainstream director, bar perhaps Scorsese, who can still get big budget R-rated movies greenlit without them involving superheroes. He's redefined the careers of many of the actors who have appeared in his films - from Travolta to Samuel L. Jackson, to even the aforementioned Thurman - and his films have had increasingly big ensemble cast lists with seemingly everybody desperate to get on board his next venture. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may well be his biggest yet, clocking in with the usual 160-ish minute runtime synonymous with a Tarantino film, and boasting at least the second most impressive ensemble cast list of the year.

This is classic Tarantino: controversial, fresh and unapologetically old school - more than happy to take its bloody time getting to the damn point

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, an ageing actor facing the shifting tide after the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood, forced to take on villainous bit parts in TV shows and groomed to go to Italy to shoot dubbed Spaghetti Westerns by Al Pacino's producer. Dalton's stunt double, and best friend, is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who drives him home every day, to his house on the Hollywood hills right next door to Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). As their lives circle around the bright lights of Hollywood, a group of seemingly harmless hippies start hanging around on an old film lot, slowly but increasingly appearing in the peripherals of the Hollywood royalty.
Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood
Every single one of Tarantino's movies - for good or bad - is a must-see event, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is certainly no exception, arguably proving his most assured effort since Kill Bill, taking its sweet time in almost every shot, every scene, and somehow winning you over in the process. After the end of the first long, languid car drive where nothing happens, you realise what you're in for - this is a classic Tarantino production about a classic age in Hollywood (or at least the death of a classic age in Hollywood), and he's sure as hell going to savour every moment, going hard on some great scenes of story-driving dialogue, and playing out a few fiery bursts of action - normally through in-movie sequences showing Rick Dalton's greatest hits, but also, before we get to that finale, in a memorable moment with Tarantino's version of Bruce Lee.

Although never reaching that level of tension that some of Tarantino's classics (or even just classic scenes, like Waltz's moment in Inglourious Basterds) have had, the filmmaker does well to paint the creepy, infectious malevolence of the brainwashed zombie hippie cult group, affording the film a level of underlying unease. And, on the screen within the screen, he does an impressive job turning DiCaprio into an emotional wreck, forgetting lines, and sweating his way through his performance - but also championing the hope for an underdog comeback moment (not wholly unlike what the filmmaker himself has done for so many supposed has-been actors across the last three decades).

Even as a huge Marvel fan, it's great to see a must-see blockbuster that isn't superhero driven

Despite having the easier part (DiCaprio unquestionably has more meat), it's Pitt who absolutely steals the show. It's the best we've seen from him in years, and his quietly tough-as-nails stunt double is a choice part that provides some welcome air-punching moments (normally involving hippies). Robbie doesn't fare quite as well, and whilst you could argue that this isn't really Sharon Tate's movie (those unfamiliar with the tragic fate of the real Tate might want to do a little research before seeing Tarantino's version, otherwise it may all go over your head), Margot Robbie really is fawned upon a little much. Scorsese arguably did much the same thing with Wolf of Wall Street, but Tarantino makes it feel even less necessary; his camera spending more time on her legs than anything else, with her body getting an awful lot of love despite her character having about two lines of dialogue in the entire movie. It's a thankless part that confirms but one thing that most viewers likely already knew; Robbie is flawless. And for anybody who has seen I, Tonya, she's got so much more than just legs. Still, it's not her film, and the Pitt/DiCaprio bromance drives the whole bloody affair to tremendous effect, carrying a strange warmth and companionship that is actually quite unusual to find in movies these days - an organic buddy-buddy relationship that feels wonderfully natural. Indeed this is probably the director's most heartfelt movie ever.

This is Tarantino, so some might feel the undeniably indulgently languid pace, the abortive cameos, the seemingly-going-nowhere scenes, but if you go with it all you may find that this is mostly also classic Tarantino: controversial, fresh and unapologetically old school - more than happy to take its bloody time getting to the damn point. From the dialogue to the acting, to the cast and the cameos; from the start to the very end - complete with mid-credits scenes - this is a must-see event movie. And, even as a huge Marvel fan, it's great to see a must-see blockbuster that isn't superhero driven. Now if only we could get Scorsese's De Niro/Pacino/Pesci/Keitel The Irishman on the Big Screen...

Scores

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Our Review Ethos

Read about our review ethos and the meaning of our review badges.

To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.

Related Content

Midway Review
  • By Kumari Tilakawardane
  • Published
Netflix's The King Review
  • By Casimir Harlow
  • Published
Netflix's American Son Review
  • By Casimir Harlow
  • Published
Stephen King's Doctor Sleep Review
  • By Kumari Tilakawardane
  • Published
Netflix's Rattlesnake Review
  • By Casimir Harlow
  • Published

Latest Headlines

Disney+ subscribers experience launch day technical jitters
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Netflix to stop supporting older Samsung TVs in December
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
BBC and Sky agree new collaboration
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Disney+ streaming service gets UK release date of 31st March 2020
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
BritBox streaming service goes live in UK with Channel 4 now on board
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Top Bottom