Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s new film brings his entire career into perspective, for better or worse. If you were to call this Oscar-winning screenwriter, overrated, complicated, a master of nostalgia, or a genius, you would be correct on all accounts. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is arguably his most ambitious film to date, equally his most chaotic. Tarantino swears that he will only direct 10 films (this is his 9th), and with each new film, he demands more from himself and from the audience. But he’s not demanding the audience to think elevated thoughts or figure out complicated plots as some directors do. Instead, he’s asking the audience to look back with him and reminisce with references to movies and television he finds important. For audiences who are not familiar with those archaic references, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” won’t mean as much. Unnecessarily long in running time, Tarantino’s script follows three very different characters, two who interact regularly, and one who could be edited out of the film entirely and the movie wouldn’t change one bit.

It’s 1969 in Hollywood and things are changing rapidly in the movie business. Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) has become typecast as the “heavy” in westerns and action films. It’s only when producer and talent agent Marvin Schwarzs (Pacino) points out where his career is headed, that he starts to worry about playing so many bad guys. Dalton’s literal right-hand man and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt), remains by his side in good times and bad. Now a glorified handyman, Cliff spending his days driving the erratically emotional movie star around to sets and engagements. Cliff is the stable one in this relationship, never fretting about anything. As Dalton’s career seems to be heading into the sunset, he seeks solace in his Hollywood Hills home, where his new next-door neighbors are the up and coming director Roman Polanski and his bride, Hollywood’s new it-girl Sharon Tate (Robbie).

For those who don’t share Tarantino’s obsession with the past, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might get a bit boring until the final scene where he offers up blood, gore and violence

In his first film since taking home the Oscar for “The Revenant,” DiCaprio is given so much to work with in the character of Rick Dalton. He taps into nearly every emotion as the wild saga of this made-up movie star plays out. There isn’t a subtle moment in the obsessive portrayal, not that DiCaprio has ever been known for subtly. It’s a role entirely different from anything he’s ever done, yet you see fragments of nearly every character he’s ever portrayed. Pitt on the other hand, having played many a subtle performance in his life, delivers a more balanced character that is equally, if not more, interesting. Together the duo has some of the best chemistry in any of Tarantino’s flicks, and that’s saying a lot. The usual cast of Tarantino favorites pop up for one or two scenes, but it’s Margot Robbie’s nearly silent performance that’s the films head-scratcher and casting her for such an insignificant role is the film’s biggest misstep. Her role as Sharon Tate feels plucked from a different movie, and the character has nothing to do with the main plot of an aging movie star and his faithful sidekick.

There are many “movie within a movie” scenes featuring Dalton shooting a movie, that run so long you almost forget what film you are in. Then, of course, he misses a line and has to start over and you’re jolted from that spell. Tarantino typically takes whatever time he wants to tell whatever story he wants. The fact that he’s never cared what others might think, is compounded in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” The editing fails to tighten this script he worked on for five years. It lingers on stuff that’s irrelevant to the main plot of the film. For those who don’t share Tarantino’s obsession with the past, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might get a bit boring until the final scene where he offers up blood, gore and violence. In a scene where a rare version of “California Dreamin’” plays on the radio, Booth picks Dalton up after a long day on the set, and they drive off into a warm sunset. This beautiful scene illustrates more than any scene in this film or any other “what it might have been like to make movies back then.”

Final Thought

Tarantino’s love letter to ‘Hollywood’ is his messiest film to date, yet the wildly entertaining performances from Pitt and DiCaprio make it a must-see.


4 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”

  1. Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is the rising star that counters Dalton’s decline, even complaining that probably “the most famous director in the world” is living next door and even a chance meeting could turn his career around. It’s all what-if, and in QT’s AU, he dares to suggest another way it all could have gone. If you’re suggesting Robbie’s Tate could hav been removed from the film without changing it, wouldn’t that undermine one of the central points to the entire story?

    1. I’m saying it could have been any actress, or a male actor, it doesn’t have to be Tate is the point I am making.
      However, I still think you could remove anyone living next door, and very little about the film would actually change.

      1. In Hollywood 1969, who else could you have saved with a connection to Spahn Ranch, Charlie Manson, and Tex? In the opening scene, QT tells us the date: February 1969; the countdown is already ticking the moment it becomes clear its Sharon. After the time jump, Kurt Russell’s narration, and another date stamp, those in the know should be dreading exactly what QT is going to do to merge the stories. The person and the connections are significant because this is “the 9th film by Quentin Tarantino,” and he uses that to full effect. If you can think of any other actor of 1969 and in Hollywood that would have the same impact, by all means: suggest them.

        1. You are still missing my point, QT just wanted to have Tate in a story he was writing, and then wrote everything else around that. The story didn’t have to be 1969, it’s all specific “just because”. None of the ranch, Tate, Manson stuff even matters in the story. I still advocate all that could be cut out, and it would still be a movie about two dwindling guys working in Los Angeles.

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