Star-studded, crafted with an exceptional eye for detail, and entertaining without a trace of exhaustion, “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” is a lovely crowdpleaser. It also lets Quentin Tarantino embrace more reflective kind of cinema.
When Quentin Tarantino announced the round number 10 as his career’s jackpot, many claimed that the American director turned into a drama queen, leveraging the controversial statement to gain more promulgation of his upcoming “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood”.
I was among those skeptical ones too, and after the complete flake that “The Hateful Eight” was, I had little faith in “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood”. But as if done out of spite, Quentin Tarantino proved that this lucky ten might not be just a tease. Because his 9th film emphasises Tarantino’s understanding of how quickly the time passes by.
“Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” follows two Hollywood’s B-league players, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his fellow stunt man, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The two had some blissful moments in their careers, but Dalton’s been lacking a solid title in his dossier for quite some time, which as a consequence, left Cliff employed as his chauffeur and errand boy.
A vast part of “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” takes place on movie sets, among tired actors, feverish make-up artists and directors, in between scenes or during filming. This is mostly DiCaprio’s planet here, whose character Rick Dalton is peeked at by the audience in his day-to-day struggle as a once-celebrity-now-loser “movie star”. Dalton dreams of stardom, of big and ambitious roles, but it’s obvious how Hollywood views him now.
The character of Rick Dalton feels somehow auto-critical. Known for his outstanding performances, DiCaprio isn’t afraid to mock himself through Rick Dalton’s figure, criticise his own fame cravings and his own need for attention. Some of those on-set scenes feel almost improvised, as if Tarantino nonchalantly let the camera roll, giving Leonardo DiCaprio space to roam around and do his magic. And DiCaprio nails every line he’s given, blurring the border between what’s just a character and what’s his own experience put in motion.
DiCaprio’s charismatic silhouette is balanced by Brad Pitt, a.k.a Cliff Booth. Pitt, cocky, tanned and dressed in colourful shirts, oozes confidence in an entirely different manner than DiCaprio. Booth’s perspective is the kind of Hollywood we don’t get to see too often. Far from cocktail parties in big-ass mansions, living in the city’s outskirts in a ruin of a trailer. But even in spite of how miserable his life seems to be, Booth is happy almost unconditionally.
Pitt and DiCaprio are an electrifying duo, and “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” wasn’t an easy job to deliver. In a way the script works here, this 9th film of Quentin Tarantino feels a close kin to “Pulp Fiction”. It’s a set of recollections and loosely tied scenes, rather than a regular plot. However, Tarantino has been known for such trade-off between action and witty dialogues.
“Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” is Quentin Tarantino’s postcard from his youth
In that sense, some may argue that there is a lot of old Tarantino in “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood”. First of all, it’s the finale. The story of Dalton and Booth intersects with Roman Polański and Sharon Tate, and the rise of Charles Manson hippie-happy cult. Dalton is actually Polanski’s neighbour, and Booth accidentally gives a ride to one of Manson’s ardent believers, Pussycat (stunning Margaret Qualley). And things eventually get messy, obviously, with the inevitable crime in the spotlight.
That’s also the way in which Tarantino eases himself a bit after a film so far from his planet, thus concluding the contemplative postcard movie with his very own hallmark – a bloodbath. Such ending is a reference to all of Tarantino’s films, from “Inglorious Bastards” and “Django: Unchained” to “From Dusk Till Dawn”.
On top of that, there is the fascination with female feet too (Margot Robbie’s precisely), and a whole lot of frames also iconic for Tarantino. Tarantino’s even playful with music like he used to be – Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” accompanies a scene when Booth sees Pussycat for the first time. That’s a straight-out poke to how the same song was used originally in “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft.
The ingredients are similar, but the final produce is a different story.
While all Tarantino things are in place, “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” feels completely different. As unbelievable as it may sound, the man who directed blood-soaked, insane “Pulp Fiction” has simply matured.
Tarantino became more bitter and reflective, also a tidbit sentimental. Both of his main characters are nostalgic comebacks to the director’s youth, which he recollected himself in some of his interviews. He was always a film buff, and in love with kitsch, B-class movies and cheap grindhouse. The wannabe stars were the silent heroes, hiding in the low-budget productions. But what shaped Tarantino as an artist has eventually changed – the times are different now and it’s his films which now serve the very same purpose as those old school movies he loved. And Tarantino’s finally aware of it.
That might be even slightly unsettling to see that change. Quentin Tarantino’s no more the insane provocateur. “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” blows the wind of “that’s never coming back”, paints Hollywood without Marvel’s blockbusters and the Internet era filled with day-to-day dramas. It’s his own “The Silence” by Martin Scorsese – a poem to what inspired him through the entire career.
Whatever it is you expect from “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood”, you’ll probably be surprised. Go with no holds barred, watch it and just enjoy this least Tarantino movie of Tarantino movies. Because despite all this uncanny part, sentimentality and whatnots, it is still a goddamn good film.
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (2019)
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Hate Grade: 2.5/10