Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is regarded as Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and after watching it it’s easy to see that’s true. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, Tarantino steps back to his childhood and into a time where cinema and TV was changing to tell the story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a veteran TV actor who seems to be reaching the twilight of his career, and his long-time friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt,) who has a hard time finding work outside of being Rick’s chauffeur due to a prevalent rumour in the industry that he killed his wife.
As is the case with all Tarantino films, Once Upon a Time is packed with top tier talent, including Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. Now while it’s no secret that the film touches on the Charles Manson story and what happened that fateful year, it’s handled so well by Tarantino that while you know gears are in motion as the story progresses, the central focus of the story is that of Rick and Cliff trying to find a way to stay relevant in Hollywood and because of this the film is truly engrossing, as most Tarantino films tend to be.
Now this is greatly in part to the talent that Tarantino has when it comes to putting strong characters and dialogue onto paper, and then surrounding himself with the exact talent he knows will bring it to life better than anyone else. Cue DiCaprio and Pitt, who absolutely crush it here. These are two extremely talented actors who have been around for decades and been in some of the most memorable movies ever for good reason, and that is that they’re masters at their craft. These two embody Rick and Cliff from the very start, and it’s clear they’re beyond comfortable doing anything that Tarantino asks of them. And when you have that complete trust of those who are bringing your story to life, well, you know you’re golden.
These two are so good here that it’ll be surprising if both men aren’t up for Academy Awards in the Best Actor and Supporting Actor categories. And strong acting is important here, as the movie is closer to three hours in length than it isn’t. Even with a daunting two-hour, forty-minute runtime Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood is strongly paced, as Tarantino doesn’t really do filler space in his films. It’s just mesmerizing watching everyone interact with one another, as Tarantino has this knack to write dialogue that sounds realistic and natural, even if nobody would ever talk as seamless as his characters do. It’s not an easy trick to accomplish, but it’s one he’s mastered.
Now, I will say that while it’s completely engaging and Rick and Cliff are awesome, it’s hard to say where Once Upon a Time will land on the list of Tarantino’s best, as that seems to be a pretty divisive list depending on who you talk to. While never boring, I don’t think the overall story is as good as some of his more recent and earlier films. And that’s the thing with Tarantino, you can kind of only compare him to himself, which is a compliment on itself.
When you have a writer/director like that, and you’re comparing just how good this incredibly strong film is compared to another masterpiece of his, well, that’s saying something. That said, if you’re not a Tarantino fan, then odds are this movie won’t convert you, as this is his ninth film and if the previous eight did nothing for you then his style clearly just isn’t for you.
One thing I really liked was that Tarantino didn’t cast himself in any part this time. He was the voice at some point, but I only know that after doing some research. Sometimes his cameos are fine, but other times I personally find it distracting. This was especially true in Django, where I was completely engrossed in this world he created and then out of the blue, there’s Tarantino showing up before being blown up. I may be alone in this and that’s fine, but it just took me out of the film enough that it took some time for me to transport back in, and you should never want that in a movie. If there was one thing that was overly distracting this time it was Tarantino’s well-known obsession with feet and just how often they were front and center in the frame. It’s never subtle in this movie, and it happens probably a little too much; but again, that may just be me.
In the end though, those are minor – possibly personal – gripes and they don’t detract from the superb work Tarantino does behind the camera here, how beautiful the cinematography by Robert Richardson is, how phenomenal DiCaprio and Pitt are, and how fantastic the supporting cast and dialogue is throughout the entire film. If you’re a fan of Tarantino then this is a no-brainer and you likely own it already; however, if you’re on the fence, I’d definitely say give it a chance as it may surprise you, and at the very least you’ll get to see two of the best performances of the year in a movie like none you’ve seen before.
This movie looks gorgeous, with a beautiful video transfer and the exact looks that Tarantino was going after for each scene shining through wonderfully. The audio got the same respect with a flawless mix, dialogue and soundtrack all taking center stage when they’re supposed to, never fighting for attention and instead working in harmony.
Quenin Tarantino’s Love Letter to Hollywood – This is a five minute piece that just sees cast and crew talk about Tarantino’s work and how he teleports the viewer back to the Golden Age of Hollywood with relative ease.
Bob Richardson – For the Love of Film – This is a four and a half minute piece on Cinematographer Bob Richardson and how thrilled everyone was to have him on board and the vast expertise he brought along with him for the film’s visuals.
Shop Talk – The Cars of 1969 – This is a 6-minute featurette that showcases the films vehicles and the care that was taken to make some of the more complicated shots around and within the cars work.
Restoring Hollywood – The Production Design of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood – This is the longest feature at just over 9-minutes in length and, well, focuses on Barbara Lane’s recreating the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s crazy to watch, as the film really lives and dies on it believably taking place in this time period.
The Fashion of 1969 – This featurette is just under 7-minutes in length and focuses on Arianne Phillips’ costume design on the movie, helping to bring the cast 50 years into the past.
Additional Scenes – There are also 25-minutes worth of additional scenes if you want to delve into those.
Sony Pictures Presents Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Written & Directed by: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell. Running time: 160 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Dec. 10, 2019.
Tags: Al Pacino, Austin Butler, brad pitt, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Julia Butters, Kurt Russell, leonardo dicaprio, Margaret Qualley, Margot Robbie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino, Timothy Olyphant