Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Tarantino’s Slow Burner Romp

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Back in my day…

This is the first Quentin Tarantino film we’ve reviewed on this site! It’s his most recent film, launched at this point two years (2019 for non-math people).

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, it’s a love letter to a bygone era of movies, dammit.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

With this project, Tarantino went to great lengths to recreate the golden era of Hollywood in the ’60s.

The main character is Jack Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), who’s an actor famous for Westerns. But he’s now middle-aged and struggled to land roles.

Worse still, his drinking is affecting him and his personal life is a bit all over the place.

But he does have a steady best friend (and colleague) in the form of Clint Booth (Brad Pitt), who’s a stunt double.

Dalton’s various roles are depicted with a glorious nod to old types of film reels. And DiCaprio is obviously really enjoying himself in these, putting in some darkly amusing quips.

As Dalton attempts to reinvigorate his career, Tarantino soon begins making nods towards Sharon Tate and the Manson Family.

If you’re unfamiliar with the history here, that’s a real-life story. The Tate–LaBianca murders occurred in August 1969 at the hands of Charles Manson’s acolytes.

What Tarantino does is weave these stories into an increasingly unnerving plot of Manson’s cult affecting the film industry.

And it’s an absolute slow burner, with Manson’s family portrayed to quite real effect in the film (real names and similar looking actors are used etc.).

Sharon Tate is played by Margot Robbie, who flits in and out of the movie like a suntanned beaming smile in a short skirt.

Meanwhile, Dalton’s ongoing heavy drinking is affecting the few roles he lands. He moves into a new property next to Roman Polanski and his wife and dreams of having a run in with the director.

But the roles he does have are becoming difficult. His drinking makes him forget his lines during one scene, despite having practiced them.

He then has a breakdown in his trailer afterwards, furious with himself. We think this is the best scene of the film, DiCaprio on fine form here.

Despite the nefarious nature of what’s lying just around the corner, Tarantino certainly spins the film out like a laid back cruise.

The characters all talk in that stylised Tarantino way, which some critics had an issue with. But we think is effective in this film, homage as it is to a different era of acting.

But the movie inexorably builds up to the horrendous Tate–LaBianca murders.

As this is an alternate history film, Tarantino adds a unique spin to this. Like he did with Inglorious Basterds in 2008.

And this plays out with one of the most psychotically violent film endings we can remember in quite a long time.

Certainly it’s one of Tarantino’s most measured films. Along the lines of Jackie Brown (1997), it’s sparing with its violence and heavy on its sharp dialogue and stylised scene building.

DiCaprio and Pitt are on top form throughout. Although self-indulgent, Dalton and Booth and likeable and their friendship draws you into the film.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is perhaps a bit too long for its own good, but as a witty and sharp take on drifting through life in the Sixties we think it’s something of a minor triumph.

It’s quite an unusual film in its structure, lugubrious in its pace. Like taking a long car ride during a long summer day.

And that makes it a little unusual to review, where random clips we could add don’t really do it justice.

But as a later career effort, we think it returns Tarantino to fine form and hints he’s still got the gifts of the gab to make more classics.

Critical Reaction to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The film met largely with positive reviews, a big step up from Tarantino’s previous film. The Hateful Eight (2015) is arguably his worst from a storied career.

Being Brits, we turned to our English critics for feedback. The Church of Wittertainment did not disappointment, with Dr. Kermode not too impressed with the film.

But his stand-in and The Telegraph’s film critic Robbie Collins provided much more glowing feedback, making Once Upon a Time in Hollywood out as a late-career masterpiece.

We think it’s between the pair of these opinions. Not as bad as Kermode makes out, but not near the heights Collins places it at.

It’s a strong 4/5 film with some excellent performances, but we feel it was a tad overlong just for the sake of it. That’s the joys of opinions, eh?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Production

With a budget of $90–96 million, the film was a modest hit and raked in $374.3 million.

The film was shot from June-November 2018 in LA. Burt Reynolds was set to have a minor role, but as he’d died in September his part when to Bruce Dern.

Tarantino set out in mind to turn 2018 into LA back into 1969 LA without CGI.

So he hired the likes of Barbara Ling, a production designer who’s worked on projects such as The Doors (1990).

However, CGI was eventually added as well to complete the director’s vision.

The cast consists of Taraintino’s usual flair for big name actors alongside other stars in cameos. Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Dakota Fanning, and Al Pacino all have small roles.

Along with its commercial gains, it was a big hit at awards ceremonies taking some 10 Oscar nominations.

Brad Pitt won Best Supporting Actor for his role, as well as Best Production Design.

So, yes, Mr. Pitt now has an Oscar for his acting chops. Good! Because it’s just not enough that he’s extremely good looking!

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