Film Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)


Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film is finally in cinemas, starting this month. This was probably a long-waited film and for sure made some high expectations – well, as high as a Quentin Tarantino film can.

For his last but one film (he claimed that he’ll retire after his tenth film), Tarantino brings back actors from his favourite squad. Both Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio are at their second film with Tarantino.

About the Film

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood highlights the story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a western film actor who’s facing the downhill of western era in Hollywood and his good, stunt double friend – Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).

Rick is facing an existential crisis and tries to maximise his minor successes in the film industry.

Cliff is his trustworthy friend, who’s way more charismatic and handy, yet always staying in Rick’s shadow.

We also get to meet Sharon Tate – portrayed by Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad). It looks like the film is about to focus on Robbie’s character, but as we’ll discover later on, it won’t.

Careful for spoilers from now on.

The Tarantino Style

For those of you who are not familiar with Tarantino’s twisted and controversial style, this film will be a huge disappointment. There you go, I said it.

His attention to details is sharp, funny and simple, funny lines are in the right spot, but the film itself is an illusion. It’s not only the fact that the two main characters (Rick and Cliff) are fictional, but the film gives you the illusion that it’s taking you on a road that Tarantino never meant for you to see. In the end, the film proves to be what its title suggests: a fairy tale.

It feels like the film is missing the narrative substance. The scenes and the action is moving slowly like they are preparing you for something. You’ll stay in your seat for almost three hours waiting for something to happen.

Tarantino, the Trickster

For those who haven’t noticed yet, Quentin Tarantino loves to take real-life events and alter them in to give them a happier ending – after he brutally smashes some heads, literally. In this case, it looks like he wanted to alter Sharon Tate’s fate, by giving her a second chance in the Tarantino universe.

He played the altered ending card with another of his films – Inglorious Basterds. The film is inspired by a real anti-Nazi mission, but its outcome was different that Tarantino’s version: Hitler and the Nazis obviously survived the fire.

Tarantino offers you a nicely wrapped illusion again in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Including Margot Robbie’s screen time, the scene where he shows you the Cielo Drive sign, mentioning Charles Manson numerous times – everything makes you believe this film will be about Sharon Tate’s murder.

It. Is. Not.

If you’re familiar and interested in the 1969 murders, I’m sorry to disappoint, but this film won’t be about this.

Brad Pitt Has All the Funny Lines

If Tarantino’s friendship with Brad Pitt made him decide to give his friend all the funny lines, it’s irrelevant.

What’s for sure is that the funny, catchy lines in this film landed on Pitt’s script and it’s perfect. I can’t see any other character having them. And what makes them even funnier is their simplicity.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that Brad Pitt is still captivating on screen and although the shirtless scene was unnecessary, now we know for sure that he still has it.

What’s the Deal With the Feet?!

I did not understand why we had to see so many feet taking half of the screen.

I mean… I know the ’60s were under a major hippie influence and being bare feet was probably the biggest trend of that era, but still… so. many. feet.

What’s Up with Margot Robbie?

Margot Robbie was cast as Sharon Tate. They milked her appearance as much as they could: made her one of the three faces on the posters and made it look like the film was going to be about her character.

Margot came with quite a rich background: she already played with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street and proved she could switch from Harley Quinn to Tonya Harding and score an Oscar nomination along the way. So, there is no surprise that we all hoped she’ll do more in this film.

And in case you didn’t get used to Tarantino surprises – he serves us another one: Margot Robbie barely says any words in this film.

Sharon Tate’s actions are very limited in ordinary. To be more specific, all that she does in the film is to dance a lot, buy a book for her husband, Roman Polanski, goes to see one of her own films (and oddly enough tries to avoid the $0.75 for the ticket) and… that’s pretty much it.

Considering that she has quite a lot of screen time, you would expect her to do something, go through something interesting.

Her presence feels like the magic fairy just got in town. She’s always dancing, smiling, enjoying life and her muted presence on the screen brings a nice, warm feeling. I think that’s what Tarantino wanted to make out of this character. He wanted to celebrate her personality and not her tragic death, he didn’t want his Sharon Tate to be the victim.

Sharon Tate was very popular when she died. She was young, just a couple of weeks away to give birth to her first child and married to one of the most famous directors of the time. Her story is terribly sad and Tarantino wanted to give her the happy ending she deserved.

Reality Touch Points

On his way to trick you, Tarantino carefully chooses which reality touch points to give you.

You’ll see Charles Manson once or twice in the film and his name will be evoked numerous times.

Furthermore, he “sends” Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth) to the old ranch where the Manson family lived. The ranch is very real, existed and real-life and so was George.

Also, he wants to make sure that you know where Rick Dalton lives: on Cielo Drive – the same address as the Polanskis had back then.

All these small, but carefully picked details are meant to trick you into the idea that the action of the film will suddenly change at a certain point and that it will focus on Margot’s character. If you’re familiar with the Manson family and their infamous murders, you’ll easily recognise this reality touch points and they might lead to different expectations.

Traditional, Yet Good Ways

Quentin Tarantino refused to use SGI to recreate the last years of Hollywood’s golden age. And this is very noticeable.

You can easily notice that the decor and the set are as authentic as it can be and that no SGI is involved. It might look more like an absurd ambition, but I think it’s really nice to see a film done “in the old way”.

Last but not least, the traditional approach of how this film was made goes hand in hand with the era it tries to represent.

So… Is It Worth It?

Giving the fact how long this film is (close to three hours), it’s lacking a strong narrative logic and if you never saw a Quentin Tarantino film… I would say it would be a waste of your time.

But, if you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan and are looking for an old-style film in its true way – with no blockbuster vibe – and if you want to see how a 55-year-old shirtless Brad Pitt looks like… then go for it.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is definitely not a film for everyone. It basically lacks most of the elements of a good blockbuster nowadays (minus smashing people’s heads – another of Tarantino favourites). A day later after watching it, I was constantly wondering what’s the “deep, hidden” message of this film. But in the end, I don’t think there is any hidden message.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wanted to bring us a traditional film in the era of SGI, that was bringing back some of the old Hollywood’s vibe and show us how the world transitioned from a cultural movement to another.

Have you seen Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? What do you think of it?

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