Comedy Drama

Review: ‘Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood’ Revisits the End of an Era as Only Tarantino Can

July 25, 2019Ferdosa Abdi

Much has been said about Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood, but there is a lot that can’t be discussed without spoiling the plot. All that one needs to know is that Tarantino has once again created something that is as much about the craft of filmmaking as it is about the story that is unfolding.

This time, Tarantino zeroes in on the grandeur and disillusionment of the Hollywood system during the late '60s, with a story that follows fictionalized Hollywood star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick is at a crossroads in his career as the sun is beginning to set on his leading man days and as he struggles to break into films. Cliff, meanwhile, is simply along for the ride as Rick's best friend, chauffeur and occasional handyman.

Just as he did with Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino marries real-life events and people with fiction, but this time he struggles to maintain the balance, incorporating Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) into the storyline but relegating her to a footnote to Rick and Cliff's story. The movie is at its strongest when it focuses entirely on the Hollywood system and Rick's struggle to maintain his confidence and overcome his fears of being replaceable, for as stunning and charismatic as Robbie is as Tate, little is done to integrate her story as a rising actress with Rick's story as a falling star. It's clear that Tarantino's intent was to make a film about Hollywood, but he was seduced by the allure of presenting the gruesome nature of the Charles Manson murders with his own unique sensibilities.

Despite the unfocused narrative, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is a wonder to behold. There is something rather special about watching a master director craft a movie that is so rich in detail and passion. Tarantino, aided by the wonderful cinematography by Robert Richardson, runs wild with recreating the era of late '60s Hollywood, saturating every frame with impeccable detail to create a fully realized world and the characters within it.

However, Tarantino is eclipsed by DiCaprio's incredible performance. The pair's first project together, Django Unchained, wowed audiences with a menacing and hilarious performance from the Hollywood superstar, and this performance somehow tops it. Rick is a fairly straightforward character, but DiCaprio provides layers to his portrayal by tapping into Rick's fears and anxieties, as well his genuine affection for his craft. Every action, movement, word and inflection is so precise that it becomes evident that DiCaprio is injecting some of his own experiences to enrich the character.

The result is a doozy, and although it lacks in the storytelling department, there is so much to witness and experience that it is impossible to call it a failure. The performances from Pitt, Robbie and the cast are excellent, but the one and only performance that makes this film worth watching is DiCaprio's. Unlike Rick, his star will be shining brightly for many more years to come, and Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is the proof.

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood releases July 26th, 2019 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 41 min.

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