'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' - Tell us a story, Tarantino [REVIEW]

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

At some point, Tarantino is going to have to explain what that “Tim Roth (Cut)” was doing in the credits of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood because, let me tell you, I have a few questions as to what’s that all about.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a new film (his ninth, to be exact) from director Quentin Tarantino, now coming off of a four-year hiatus.

Yeah, yeah, four years isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things, but it seems like a while since The Hateful Eight was released, doesn’t it?

Jumping right into things, the film is, quite literally, about Hollywood. There are all kinds of characters and plot points within Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but, at the end of the day, this is really a love letter to 1960’s cinema through-and-through.

It’s also a chance for Tarantino to stroke his own ego and show how cool and hipster his taste in film is but, hey, you don’t see me complaining, do you?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
credit: YouTube

Set in 1969, Rick Dalton (2019 Academy Award winner for Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, you heard it here first) is an aging movie star who’s slowly but surely coming to terms with his own mortality.

Eight years ago, Rick was the hottest name in all of Hollywood. He was the star of a western television series called “Bounty Law,” which is the kind of show that was so popular that people would plan their entire evening around watching it on television whatever night it aired.

After that well dried up and the show was canceled, however, Rick struggled to find a steady gig and now has to resort to TV pilots and guest appearances on other popular western series, such as the one led by the great James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant, who I’m guessing got the part only because Walton Goggins was too busy to fit it in his schedule).

Real quick, can I just point out that it’s kind of funny how directors such as the Coen Brothers or the Zellner Brothers are movies like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs or Damsel that are very antithetical towards the genre, while Tarantino comes in with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and basically describes his undying love for westerns? All three are good/great films, it’s just interesting.

Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) doesn’t have the problem that Rick has, as Cliff could care less about fortune and fame.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
credit: YouTube

He’s been in his fair share of movies, too — he is Rick’s stuntman (chauffeur, handyman and whatever else Rick needs him to be), after all — but all Cliff needs to be content is his pit bull Brandy, his trailer and a six-pack.

Living right next door to Rick is famous actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the famous actress who was tragically killed in 1969 by the Charles Manson cult (characters like Tate and a few others are real, others like Dalton and Booth are fictional in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).

I’m not going to tell you how everything comes to be but Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) does factor into Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as all these characters wind up not necessarily colliding, but kind of just co-existing alongside each other throughout the course of the film.

That doesn’t even mention the work of Margaret Qualley, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Austin Butler, Maya Hawke, Luke Perry, Emile Hirsch, Mike Moh as Bruce Lee (God, I wish he had been in the movie more) and so many others, most of whom are quite good in the film but there’s not enough time to run through each of their roles in this review.

There’s also a lot — like, A LOT — of feet in this movie, which is weird. Look, Tarantino, we know that’s your thing and all, but this seems like a bit much.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
credit: YouTube

If you’re walking into Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and expecting something that resembles Tarantino’s later works such as Hateful, Django Unchained or Inglorious Bastards, you might be a little taken aback for a large majority of this film. For most of the running time, this is a lot more kin to something like Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown, meaning it’s not as in-your-face with all the exploitation.

That does find it’s way into the film during the last twenty minutes or so (Tarantino has gotta Tarantino), but this is a bit slower and a bit more oddly paced than some of his more recent entries.

At times, that pace can be a bit frustrating. With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood coming in at the 2 hour and 41 minute mark, there are moments or characters (I’m thinking either Bruce Dern’s or Pacino’s role) that make you question if they really need to be in here or if Tarantino just threw them in to prove how much he knows about the Hollywood’s golden age.

That being said, there are other times when that love Tarantino has can be so infectious that you can’t help but smile. It’s very matter-of-fact, sure, but the vibe is so strong and so well-defined that you have to give it up for the guy’s admiration and passion.

Ultimately, that makes a movie that’s really quite enjoyable, if not flawed. Again, I’m not really sure if this thing needed to be as long as it is — when everything when down with Weinstein, Tarantino went over to Sony for distribution with the clause that he would have “final cut and extraordinary creative controls” over the film, which seems like it might be a little much. Yet, there’s so much talent both in front of and behind the camera with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that it makes the film literally impossible to ignore.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
credit: YouTube

We’ve got to talk a little bit more about the characters here, too, because I meant what I said when it comes to DiCaprio. Yes, I know, we’re only a little over halfway through the year so it’s definitely too early to be making those kinds of predictions, which is why I reserve the right to change my mind. That being said, he’s clearly the frontrunner as he’s giving this character his literal all.

As far as I’m concerned, Pitt is a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor, too (even though you could make a strong argument that he should also be considered for lead actor). I’m not as confident that he’ll run away with it as Leo will, but he’s great and very funny in the film nonetheless.

The conversation that everyone’s been having around Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for the last two years is in regards to Sharon Tate and how Tarantino will handle that subject. These are real-life people and a real-life tragedy. Tarantino hasn’t always been known to be the most delicate guy in the world, so there was some worry going into this thing about how he’d handle all of this.

Ultimately, I think he does it right. There are going to be countless think-piece articles about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood over the next decade with people arguing from both sides so, I don’t know, maybe we’ll all feel differently about this in 2029. Still, upon a first viewing, I admire the decisions he made (Manson is literally in one brief scene) and I admire the way the character was portrayed — Tate isn’t just in the movie for that one moment, they make an effort to really honor her whole life, even in small ways like how she would snore or like to dance.

That being said, there are those who have pointed out that Robbie isn’t in a lot of this movie, which I think is a valid criticism. I get it’s a dicey subject matter, but having Tate be absent for large portions of the film still seems like an oversight. When she’s on-screen, it’s great and really touching, but I’d argue that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood needed more of that (or, you know, maybe some actors of color) and less of the meta-ness.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
credit: YouTube

In the end, I consider Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to be mid-range Tarantino. It’s not his top-tier work (People love yelling at me for it, but Hateful Eight is still my favorite of his) but it’s not Death Proof, either. It’s the kind of film, I will say, that sticks with you — you might feel about it one way when it ends, but the more you think about it, the better it gets. Having now sat on the movie for a good 24 hours, I can tell you that I’m more than ready to go see this thing again.

Let’s also just stop to point out how many talented, critically-acclaimed directors are coming out with movies this year. Jordan Peele had Us, Ari Aster had Midsommar, Martin Scorsese is doing The Irishman with Netflix this fall — the list goes on. 2019 may not have been the greatest year for film so far, but there’s still PLENTY to celebrate.

Watch the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!

'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' - Tell us a story, Tarantino [REVIEW]
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.

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