Release: 2019 Director: Quentin Tarantino
So I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Welcome to Hollywood, 1969. The age of movies is changing, and veteran actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is trying to find what he can do next. Filming in his hometown is so much different than it used to me. He was the biggest star for a while, starring in classic westerns for much of his golden years. But now everyone only sees him as the villain, and soon he knows that those days will be behind him as audiences won’t want to see him get beat up week after week. So he and his best friend, the stunt man/handyman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), just try to find a way of living in this ever changing industry.
And that is what this film is really about. These two men living in the crazy life of 1969 Hollywood. Rick spends most of his days drinking and memorizing the next days lines in his Hollywood house, while Cliff lives modestly with his dog and takes care of his best friend. This is such a strong dynamic between them because this relationship is never in question. This isn’t about them changing between each other, it’s about the world around them changing. Hippies line the street, new big names are lining the marquees, it’s just a different time than these two remember. So now they just live the lives that they know best, and we get to see how they adapt. Many times the scene is one from a recent project that Rick is apart of and you see it from the perspective of the show itself, with the grainy style of filming and long pans. I love this style, it’s exciting and you just love these characters, really no matter who it is.
Rick is the next door neighbor to Roman Polanski, one of the most famous directors of his time and, as everyone knows, is where the Manson Family murders happens. So we also follow the daily life of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Roman’s wife. We just see how she loves being an actress. Living the life of a Hollywood star. And the simplicity of it makes you fall for her just that much more. She isn’t trying to be endearing, and her involvement in the film does not actually impact the tale we are watching with Rick and Cliff, it’s more of a window to the 1969 lifestyle, and that makes us love her that much more.
The casting for this could not have been more perfect. What works so well is that every character is honest with themselves. They don’t try to change who they are, they just want to make the best of the day. And this is a vast array of people we meet, and while at times I thought this would become a more generic or formulaic story, it really just follows these two men and their lives. Cliff is an honest person who is just really good at what he does, and is probably one of the best characters Brad Pitt has ever done. Rick is scared about the future of his career, but he continues to live the way he always has. He is hard working and wants to nail every role he is given so the team around him doesn’t have to spend more time and money necessary for every scene, and Leo is just incredible in this role. I love this style because of it’s honesty and feels so refreshing.
So what are the problems with Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood? There isn’t really a narrative, you are following Rick and Cliffs daily life. It is way more interesting and compelling than The Hateful Eight. However, he is known for this insane and over the top style, such as in Kill Bill and Django Unchained, and this just doesn’t have that extra flair to it. I believe it is more grounded than those films, but when you have a director who can give us that rush from a crazy gun fight like Tarantino then after leaving the theater from this you almost miss that feeling. Yes, directors can change their style and don’t have to follow a specific structure for years and years, but this isn’t just any director. It’s QT and we expect a certain level from him. So while I can’t say this is as good as Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, this is better than Death Proof. It lands almost in the middle, but with a director like him that means it’s still an incredible film.
I really like this movie. I think this is one of his more accessible films, any movie-goer can walk in and then leave with a smile after seeing a complete narrative that combines fictional characters and real life setting with historical relevance. This isn’t his best film, but he rarely even makes mediocre films so you can’t go wrong with a little trip down the streets of Hollywood.