There are a few directors left in Hollywood that I would say when one of their movies comes out, it’s a bonafide event in the film community. Along with Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan, to name a few, Quentin Tarantino is someone whose films are hotly anticipated when they come to cinemas and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a movie lover’s event of the summer.
Over Tarantino’s career, he’s strived to make each of his movies intrinsically different from his last. They may have similar themes or motifs (revenge, ultra-violence, feet) but he doesn’t try to make the same movie twice. His last movie, The Hateful Eight, may have had similarities to his previous movie, Django Unchained, with them both being set in the Old West, however, the story and plot structure could not be more different. That may have been my mistake walking into Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
I was expecting to see another Inglorious Basterds or a story structure similar to Pulp fiction. OUATIH (for short) is something wholly unique that Tarantino hasn’t done before.
The story follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), his occasional stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Dalton is a semi-washed up actor who’s had a few hit series over the years but is now only doing guest-starring roles on western adventure TV shows and police procedurals. Meanwhile, Booth is working for Dalton in more of a personal assistant role, since the stunt double work has started to dry up.
The movie bounces back and forth between the point of view of Dalton, Booth and Tate, for the majority of the movie, it details a weekend in their lives. Tarantino smartly relies on the acting skills of DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie to carry the movie, taking a step back and letting the power of their performances shine.
The downside is the movie tends to linger on each scene a little longer than it should, Tarantino is not wanting to take anything away from the main trio’s beautiful performances, arguably at the cost of pacing. However, the positive of that is the audience does become engrossed with the period and setting. Even for those of us who didn’t grow up in the ’60s, Tarantino gives us a feeling of longing for that time and an almost innocence of the time that this movie touches upon during the course of the film.
Another drawback is the framing of roughly a third of the movie on a real-life person, Sharon Tate, as opposed to the fictional characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. Tate’s story feels more reverential, it’s more of a glimpse into the life of a person who shone so bright and brought such optimism to the world. Robbie’s performance captures this feeling. Tate is offered as the focal point of the tone of the movie: the beauty of the time and innocence of an era that may have never been but we always felt. The unfortunate side-effect is that she isn’t given much of an arc while Dalton and Booth go on their unique journeys.
DiCaprio’s part of the movie benefits from his character being somewhat of an amalgam of a few different stars from the ’50s and ’60s. A lesser actor would play the part of a semi-washed up actor in more of a pathetic, sombre way but DiCaprio digs deep and gives a performance that we haven’t seen from him before. The audience does get the desperation he feels at times while never feeling the need to pity him, however, much of how Dalton’s storyline is the emotional backbone of the film, Booth serves as the driving force for the mystery and intrigue of the plot. Pitt plays Booth with such ease and coolness, it reminds us of why he is such a massive star in the first place.
Overall, the movie is something a film lover needs to see on the big screen to enjoy it for themselves. Love it or hate it, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood leaves you wanting more in this style, a film that caters to true lovers of cinema.