I have a word of warning for all you would be review reading warriors: you are going to either love ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD or your going to be underwhelmed. And that depends on what kind of a movie watcher you are. Are you like me, and like to dig so deep into a film that you can debate all of its contents for days and years to come. If you are, congrats, you will probably love this movie like I did. Or are you a….casual moviegoer? Do you go for the plot/story and really only look at movies on a surface level, not digging deep as to why a film truly might be a masterpiece? If you are one of those, sorry to say, you will be underwhelmed. For me, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is easily the best film of 2019 so far. That’s right, even better than John Wick Chapter 3 right now. Call me Tarantino biased all you want, when I was watching this film, Quentin sucked me into his fairy tale where I started seeing every frame for what it was truly meant to represent. This film is true artistry.
If I had to call this film anything, it is a film about film making and film careers in general, while spinning it into true events, while also being a comedy buddy hangout film with some minor horror elements near the end. That’s a giant mouthful right? Well, the tone completely works. Imagine if Quentin Tarantino re wrote and re made American Graffiti but set it to the film industry around the time of the Manson Murders, and you can maybe see what you’d get. Some of you will come out of this movie saying: this movie hardly had any plot, it was just different scenes of people going to and from work and other places and they were just talking about their careers the entire time or filming a TV show. Well, you are just looking at the surface level of the story. The surface level of the story is that an actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double named Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) navigate a Hollywood industry and try to stay relevant during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles. Oh, and Rick happens to live next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie).
Before seeing this movie, I would really encourage you to look up Sharon Tate and see what happened to her via Charles Manson and the Manson Family. It’s really horrific and might give you nightmares for days, but knowing her life and what the Manson family was up to will help you dig deeper into the philosophical aspects of the story/film. The movie isn’t just a couple of layers, I have a feeling that Tarantino has an infinite amounts of points of view on how you are supposed to appreciate and look at this film. After watching it, it is definitely a Quentin Tarantino movie, but then again it isn’t. It’s aspects pulled from everything that he’s done before, but maybe not so much of that over-the-top gritty unique dialogue that you’ve been accustomed to getting. Some of it is still there though. But that’s okay, because I have a feeling that bombastic dialogue might not have went as well with this film as it has some of his others.
Let’s dig quickly into the two controversies in the film without spoiling anything of what happens: that Margot Robbie is only in a handful of scenes and doesn’t get that much dialogue, and the really, really violent last act. I can completely see why Margot Robbie doesn’t have that much to do in the film. As Tarantino has said, he didn’t want to paint her as a victim of what happened to her, he wanted to show that she was an ordinary person like you and I caught up in the glitz and glam of Hollywood. The scene that I’m sure you’ve seen in the trailers of her watching herself in the real film The Wrecking Crew and getting so happy by the positive audience reaction in the theater is an amazing scene that Margot Robbie pulls off masterfully just based on her facial expressions. Her having a lot more scenes and a lot more dialogue I think would’ve hindered the impact of the ending and made her sort of a false representation of Tate. What Tarantino did with her character is perfect and I stand by that. I won’t get into any details, but the violent last act is perfect. It pays homage to films that will eventually be made in the upcoming decade of the 70s while also showing and visually explaining why that true life event would change everything in Hollywood industry forever, a true loss of innocence. That’s all I’m saying to not ruin anything, but I LOVED LOVED LOVED what the ending brought to the film.
I don’t need to tell you that the other aspects of the film are perfect. Tarantino made 1969 Hollywood alive again. The cinematography needs to win an Oscar here. The direction and dialogue are crisp, clean, and masterful as always from Quentin. But let’s get to the acting. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, two of the biggest movie stars in the world, display some of their best acting here, with both of them sure to get nods for leading and supporting, and Pitt to probably just take the trophy home early next year. They are the perfect comedy buddy pair, and I would love to see them do something else together, although drastically different. Leonardo commands the first half of the film, while Brad Pitt mostly shines in the climax and on his character’s visit to Spahn movie ranch. And while Margot Robbie is fantastic with the handful of scenes she is in, I think she is overshadowed by Margaret Qualley, who plays Pussycat, a Charlies Manson follower. Their scene in the car heading to Spahn Ranch is pitch perfect with every aspect of movie making you can think of.
Unlike Tarantino films, I don’t want this review to be too long. I could honestly talk for hours about it. I could talk about Rick Dalton’s scene with the method acting little girl, or the great scene of Dalton talking to Pacino’s character about his older stuff and that he possibly has a career in doing Spaghetti Westerns, or what goes down in Cliff Booth’s visit to Spahn Ranch all the live long day. But I won’t. If you’d like to discuss those scenes, I’m just a text, call, or Facebook messenger away. I would love to talk this movie with you, because I am going to be singing its praises for awhile, probably until Tarantino makes his 10th and Final Film. I’m going to rank his writing and directing gigs below this, and while this might seem like it is in the middle to you (it’s exactly in the middle right now), just know that I don’t think Tarantino has ever made a bad film, maybe just an underwhelming one with Death Proof. The rest all have a little bit or a shit ton of my love. I loved taking a trip to Hollywood in Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood. I think that if you gave this film the chance and the proper magnifying class, you could too.
My Ranking of Quentin Tarantino Films (only ones that he both wrote and directed):
- Pulp Fiction
- Inglourious Basterds
- Django Unchained
- Kill Bill (both volumes are one movie)
- Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
- Jackie Brown
- Reservoir Dogs
- The Hateful Eight
- Death Proof