Directer: Quentin Tarantino
Release Date: July 26, 2019
One of the most accomplished and divisive filmmakers of his generation, Quentin Tarantino is back with what he considers as his ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. As the outspoken director’s planned retirement approaches, every film he makes is an event that is circled on the calendar with a level of anticipation that other filmmakers are unable to match with their name alone. Being no stranger to controversy, Tarantino was able to stir the pot earlier this year when he did his best Marshawn Lynch impersonation, refusing to answer a question regarding Margot Robbie’s role at a press conference during the film’s premiere at Cannes. The controversy, cockiness, and almost rockstar attitude that no other writer/director can touch make what Tarantino does a must-see event.
The film takes place in 1969, as washed-up TV star Rick Dalton (Leonard DiCaprio) and his stunt man Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) attempt to resurrect the actor’s fading career. As Dalton is coming to terms with being cast as the “heavy” for the rest of his career, director Roman Polanski and the hottest person you’ve ever seen in your life, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), move in next door. Tarantino carefully tells a day-in-the-life story of each lead while giving us three different experiences of working in Hollywood: The struggling actor past his prime, the stunt man content with being hit with a Lincoln for a paycheck, and the hot young superstar on the come up.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood moves at a snail’s pace. At times it feels as if there’s no plot at all. This would be a knock on just about any other filmmaker but Tarantino’s characters are so strong just hanging out with them is enough to keep the audience engaged. This would have been a dull watch without the exceptional performances of Brad, Leo and Margot. The side stories are hilarious, dialogue riveting and the characters are deeply shaded. Tarantino is in his bag with this one in a way that we haven’t seen since Bastards.
The film is reserved for what we’ve come to expect from the writer/director who cuts cops’ ears off and goes on rants about how “Like a Virgin” is about a giant dick. In some emotional scenes from Leo, we see the fading actor struggle as he comes to terms with being past his prime. Tarantino takes us on a wholesome ride with Sharon Tate as she wonders through West Hollywood and takes in the crowd’s laughter as she sits in on a screening of her latest film. These are personal stories we aren’t used to seeing from the polarizing director. As we see these stories unfold, there’s a looming sense of danger from a group of young hippies that just doesn’t seem right.
But there is some fat that could have been trimmed. Scenes go on for way too long without adding anything to push the story forward. Even Tarantino’s charming dialogue can’t make up for the drag as these scenes overstay their welcome. Whole characters could be cut such as Al Pacino and Damion Lewis and it would have made the story much tighter and more watchable.
It’s almost impossible to rank Once Upon a Time in Hollywood against a list full of timeless classics after just one watch, but one thing’s for sure: We’re coming to the end of the line with one of the great writer/directors of all time, and his work is still evolving. The Tarantino fingerprint is on this movie but in a much more subtle way than his recent work. The Easter eggs are there, if you’re a Tarantino stan you’re likely to pick up on a few. The world-building of a director who’s not involved in Disney’s money machine should be celebrated, as big-time auteurs seem to be fading in the shadow of cape shit. He’s a movie nerd through and through, but who else would you want crafting films today? Audiences appear to be hungry for this type of original filmmaking, as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gave Tarantino his best opening weekend and beat Sony’s expectations with $40 million at the box office. The end is near and my only hope is that the last Tarantino film isn’t a Star Trek one.