Quentin Tarantino does not need an introduction, but if you do need any information, he’s a classic and controversial figure who makes films that are often slow‐paced, dialogue‐heavy, violent and littered with homages to other movies. Films like Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and his more recent fare like Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight are required viewing. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is his ninth film (his 10th will be his last, apparently) that serves as a tribute to the era he grew up in as well as a solid, entertaining time at the movies.
In 1969 Los Angeles, TV and movie star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is trying to keep his film career going along with his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick is dealing with personal anxieties whilst filming Western show Lancer whilst Cliff, ostracised from the film industry, comes into contact with the Manson family. We see how these situations play out over three days, leading to the fateful night of 9th August 1969.
This is by far Tarantino’s most laid‐back and realistic film, to the point to where defining it as specifically a drama or a comedy would be difficult, as neither genre is fully utilised. The tone is more natural than any movie you will see this year, as is the pacing and story. This is a film that will show things like someone driving home or just walking down the street, or will let scenes exist as red herrings in the overall story. It’s a movie that thrives on realism, yet also includes elements of fantasy, with a strong enough balance of tones to where you never get confused or irritated.
These choices work due to two important ingredients, the acting and the writing. The characterisation is quite complex and human among both the leads and even among side characters. Rick and Cliff are some of the most well‐rounded and engaging leads in a Tarantino film, as though neither are perfect individuals they are still incredibly likeable. And despite the uneventful narrative, it manages to be very unpredictable, especially when it brings in the Manson cult. As for how the real events of 9th August 1969 are incorporated, let me just say that the way that it is handled results in quite possibly the boldest and most perfect ending of Tarantino’s entire filmography.
As for the acting, both Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio give top tier performances. DiCaprio brings a sense of vulnerability and energy without going over the top. Pitt is more stoic but he manages to create a character that is likeable, intimidating and badass all at once, stealing the film and giving one of my favourite performances of his. Other actors such as Margaret Qually, Dakota Fanning and Austin Butler do excellent in over the top but very intense roles. The only disappointment is that Margot Robbie doesn’t have much to do as important figure and actress Sharon Tate, but the way her character is handled is very respectful.
The cinematography and direction are both beautiful, with Robert Richardson proving that him and Tarantino are one of the best pairings in the business. The camerawork is subtle and stylish and the production design is practically flawless. The only minor issue I had was with some of the editing choices. The film is at its best when it focuses on a long scene with little cutting and great acting, but sometimes there will be a brief flashback that messes with the flow of the narrative or a weak line reading. And like a lot of his films, I do feel that 10‐20 minutes could have been shaved off to tighten up the story.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a film that will reward cinema goers and film fans alike, despite not being what either will expect. It is one that I can see being analysed for years to come. Where it ranks in Tarantino’s filmography is uncertain for me, but I think it might be a gateway for future fans as well as being perfect for older fans.
P.S. knowing about Charles Manson, the Manson Family and their crimes will make your viewing experience a lot more rewarding