Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood brings Quentin Tarantino back onto the big screen in a way we’ve never seen him before. With his ninth film, Tarantino seemingly wanted to radically shift his approach to filmmaking, while also keeping in touch with everything that his fans love about his films. What this means is that even though this film is full of incredibly realistic dialogue, razor sharp interactions, and some fantastic homages to the “Golden Age” of cinema, this is now presented in an entirely new manner. For those that thought 2015’s The Hateful Eight was slow-paced, Tarantino has doubled down and given audiences a calculated, nearly 3 hour epic, about one of the most influential years in America; and he pulls it off effortlessly.
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood has a massive ensemble of a cast, with some massive names showing up for only one or two scenes. The reason being, is the three performances at the forefront of the film are running the show, and rightfully so. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a television star who is struggling in the latter half of his career to break into the film scene. With this struggle comes many scenes of introspection on legacy and talent, and it feels as if to some extent, Tarantino is talking directly through Dalton to his critics who have said “he’s lost it”. Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, Dalton’s trusty stuntman but also personal assistant. And just as Booth enjoys driving his friend around and running some of his errands, Pitt comfortably takes the role of supporting actor in such a way that he could be the lead of not only this film, but an entire film devoted to his mundane daily activities. When the two of them are together, they’re wildly entertaining and wonderfully add to the canon of legendary duos who came before them. Come awards season, it will be interesting to see how Pitt is billed because as supporting as he is, a co-lead push is very likely.
And somehow, one of the most impressive, yet reserved, aspects of this film is Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. Early criticisms of this film called out Tarantino for underutilizing Robbie due to a massive lack of dialogue. Yet the magnificent Robbie doesn’t seem to need much to work with, because her performance is extremely subtle, yet crucial, to the film as a whole. She is the lens through which audiences can see what little innocence Hollywood had left during this time. And in reality as a viewer, knowing her ultimate fate makes each moment with her one that needs to be cherished. And it seems like Tarantino needed to wait this long to make a film such as this for this specific reason.
This is Tarantino at his most reserved and meditative. He basks in the sunbathed movie sets of Hollywood just as much as he revels in showing the neon-drenched Sunset Boulevard at the turn of the night. Tarantino has always shown his appreciation and devotion to films, but here, it feels different. While his other films show appreciation and pay homage, this is nothing but a deep gratitude and a way of saying thanks. It’s a way of taking audiences and saying, “This is what I’ve wanted to do my whole career. This is the reason why I am a filmmaker”. Could Tarantino have made this film a decade ago? It’s difficult to say, but it seems as if he did some serious self-reflection to prepare for this behemoth of a film, and it truly comes across as such. Make no mistake, there is plenty of self-indulgence throughout this film, and one of the most incredible cinematic moments of the year makes this clear.
This film will surely be divisive, and it’s an absolute shame. Many will, and have already begun, chalking up the film as pointless, boring, and meandering. On the contrary, this film is a massive achievement for Tarantino. It’s a direct result of his detractors claiming his career has been one large excessive indulgence. While Jackie Brown was incredibly restrained and unlike any other films in his catalog, this film takes what he did there and amplifies the calculated approach tenfold within Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. And what is simultaneously so impressive, Tarantino did not make this to prove his detractors wrong. That just so happened to be the cherry on top in making what could be argued as his masterpiece, in a career full of masterpieces.
There has been much talk about whether or not Tarantino has one more film in him or not. He has always claimed after ten films he would retire, but as of late, he has hinted at this being the finale. As a fan of the filmmaker, this is obviously upsetting, but upon viewing Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, this could be seen as a triumph. Simply put, this self-reflective and heartfelt love letter to what made Tarantino the director he is would be quite the send-off. Acting both as a beautiful tribute and as a cinematic, yet somewhat historical, look at Hollywood, this film hits all the goals it set out to achieve. And while even Tarantino fans may not enjoy this film for reasons that shouldn’t be spoiled, this is perhaps the most Tarantino-esque film yet. It’s just one that took him decades to make by getting everything else out of his system first.
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is currently playing in theaters.