“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Movie Review

If Tarantino is indeed serious about only making 10 movies and then retiring, I’m going to be genuinely upset. He still has so much to offer the world of cinema it would be a shame to see him leave all of a sudden. This historical comedy-drama competed for the Palme d’Or at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of Pulp Fiction‘s premiere. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Sony and Columbia Pictures on July 26th, 2019, having previously been set for August 9th. Following impressive drawings from Thursday night previews, it managed to garner the biggest opening weekend for the director yet. It has thus far grossed over $239.8 million at the worldwide box office and has the potential to make so much more. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker initially spent 5 years writing the story as a novel before deciding that it was better fit for the big screen. After the horrifying allegations against his longtime producer Harvey Weinstein, he severed ties with him and The Weinstein Company permanently and shopped his script around to every major studio around. Eventually, Columbia got the rights after agreeing to several of the director’s demands, including final cut rights. In addition, the late Burt Reynolds was set for a small part in the film, but died before any of his scenes were shot; it’s also the last project featuring Luke Perry before his untimely death last March. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, a faded Western T.V. star and his longtime stunt double. As the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood is coming to an end, the two of them are struggling to break it big into the film industry as it evolves. On their quest to remain relevant, they run into various real-life movie stars and celebrities, including Rick’s new next-door neighbor Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. And while all of this is happening, cult leader Charles Manson and his “Family” began to gain notoriety in the city. This was easily my most anticipated movie of the year from the minute that it was announced for a number of reasons. For one, Tarantino is one of the few living filmmakers who I will watch anything that he creates. Not to mention the absolutely stacked ensemble cast he managed to put together and there is little reason for me not to get amped up for the director’s 9th feature. (Yes, Kill Bill counts as one movie) I was especially curious to see what the self-proclaimed cinephile had in his portrayal of the 1960s film industry he frequently homages in his movies. That it took place in 1969, by most accounts the year when everything changed in Hollywood for good, made it all the more fascinating, particularly when it was reported it would involved Manson Family. And it may not be perfect, but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood just about lives up to my lofty expectations. Nearly everything about this film feels like a genuine, violent, profane fairytale, which you wouldn’t expect from the writer-director. Through an extremely specific and detailed lense, we get to see a version of Hollywood stripped of any bitterness and cynicism, while still not idolizing the industry. This may be his most emotional and mature film yet, as we spend a lot of time with Rick, Cliff, and Sharon as they simply go about their daily lives. Many people have criticized the film for its treatment of Sharon Tate and how it addresses her real-life fate. (I won’t spoil it if you don’t know what happened) But to be honest, Once Upon a Time‘s unconventional way of showing this legend living her life in pure bliss, including watching herself in a theater screening of The Wrecking Crew, is wholly affectionate and deeply respectful. And if you are aware of the context of what went down, that’s ultimately when the fantasy of it all really stings. I’ve always wanted to see Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio collaborate on-screen together and this dream team-up couldn’t have been more perfect. The duo imbue Rick and Cliff with little quirks and traits that make them more human and their friendship more palpable. Whereas Rick is deeply insecure about his future prospects of being a movie star and spends a fair amount of screen time drinking or smoking his problems away, Cliff is always calm and collected and could break every bone in your body without losing composure. Seeing the contrast in these two’s position in Hollywood was extremely enticing and watchable, and the movie is almost always at its best when they’re together. Margot Robbie also leaves a major impression as Sharon Tate, at the time one of the biggest and most beloved movie stars in the industry. Although she has relatively few lines of dialogue and maybe a third of screen time compared to the two male leads, her name and legacy loom heavily over the narrative. It’s particularly during the second act when she shines, getting to walk through downtown L.A. on a free-spirited adventure. Alongside these three is one of the most sprawling ensemble casts I’ve ever seen for a feature. These include *DEEP BREATH* Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damian Lewis, Emile Hirsch, Nicholas Hammond, Luke Perry, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Damon Herriman, Lena Dunham, Lorenza Izzo, Rebecca Gayheart, Spencer Garret, Mikey Madison, and Mike Moh as Bruce Lee in a controversial yet highly entertaining scene. All of these actors float in and out of the story depending on the weight of the scene, leaving big impressions throughout. The big scene-stealer, though, is surprisingly the child actress Julia Butters as Trudi, whom Rick meets on a Western T.V. set. She’s only around for a couple of scenes, but she more than holds her own against DiCaprio when the two have a philosophical debate about the profession of acting. I can’t wait to see what else she does in the future. And from a purely technical perspective, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood sees Tarantino gaining an even stronger grip on his voice. With regular cinematographer Robert Richardson, the city of Los Angeles is captured in glorious anamorphic 35mm. Multiple streets were converted into looking like their 1969 counterparts, which lends to a heavy dose of authenticity. There are a number of impressive longshots and static moments where the camera’s fixated on one thing. These include when the two protagonists are watching an episode of The F.B.I. where Dalton guest stars and commentating on it, while the camera remains on the T.V. screen for most of the scene. Careful zooms and slow 360-turns throughout also help reveal a character’s state of mind in certain scenarios. The director’s third movie to be edited by Fred Raskins, at first the pacing is quite deliberate and slow but soon gains momentum. One of the best things in the film is how it cuts back and forth between Rick’s luxurious house on Ceilo Drive and Cliff’s humble trailer home behind a drive-in theater. This creates a really interesting dichotomy between their status in the industry and really says a lot on how stuntmen and stuntwomen are treated. It also does something interesting in digitally editing Rick Dalton into various films and shows from the era, such as The Great Escape and Death on the Run. Although far from a brand new technique, it helps to further contextualize Rick’s success (Or lack thereof) in Hollywood. With amazing performances inhabiting fantastically written characters and a surprisingly affectionate tone, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an intricate and wonderfully told fairytale about one’s legacy and permanence. If this is truly his penultimate feature, then Quentin Tarantino is still on the right path in terms of filmmaking choices and maintaining a hot streak. Although its pacing could definitely be better, it’s hard not to admire the ambition and extreme attention to detail in its recreation of Los Angeles. And once you strip away all of the fantastic dialogue and rich acting, it’s truly melancholy looking at what could have been in real life. A happily ever after that never came to be.

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