I have been reviewing for the crew at Pretty Much Geeks for over a year now and this is the most nervous I have felt about reviewing a film in all that time. As a member of the performing arts industry myself, offering feedback on such a prolific writer and filmmaker such as Quentin Tarantino is super intimidating.
He is such an assured artist, with such a specific style and everything he does, regardless of the effect it has on the audience, is incredibly deliberate – sharing my thoughts on his latest film is quite an interesting task for me as a reviewer.
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is a fictional tale of the cinema era at the end of the 1960’s. Combining a mix of both real and fictional characters from that time, Tarantino’s script is part buddy comedy, part drama and it all works towards paying homage to an era of cinema that the writer/director obviously has a lot of love for.
Weaving together a few story lines over the massively long 2 hour and 45 minute run time in a style most reminiscent of the writing of Pulp Fiction, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is best described as a very “cool” movie. Cigarettes, brown leather jackets, and all the 60’s style you can shake a stick at. From the music, to the actors and characters themselves, from the locations to the cinematography – Once Upon a Time… is a beautiful showcase of what it means to be Hollywood in the 60’s.
The main story follows fictional character Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stuntman, equally fictional Cliff Booth (Pitt) who are at the beginning of the end of their popularity as a Hollywood leading man (and his stunty).
We follow Dalton’s struggles as his popularity drops, his addiction problems increase and as he grapples with plummeting self esteem and the lack of ability to gain fulfilling work.
The interesting thing is, as Dalton’s job offers decrease, obviously so too does his stuntman’s, providing an interesting journey for these two besties to go on together.
The secondary story line is that of real life actor Sharon Tate who was famously murdered by the Manson Family Cult.
At times this story line feels like an afterthought in terms of the writing but when the film culminates in its final and most exciting thirty minutes, I understand why this approach was taken. The mix of both real and fictional characters means we never know what actual historic events are going to end up taking place and what will be altered from the real life stories which keeps us guessing throughout.
Like all of Tarantino’s previous films, he gets ridiculously good performances out of his cast. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio give some of the most incredible performances of their already outstanding careers. This is due to some stunning direction and an incredibly well written script. Tarantino certainly is a dialogue king.
Brad Pitt’s understated performance brings some of the well written comedy to life and the comedic timing between these leading men is pitch perfect. Tarantino’s ability to weave together both comedic and dramatic moments with ease is as perfect here as it has ever been and reminds us that his writing is as good as his directing – if not better.
Tarantino is famous for his unflinching use of ultra-violence in his films. He has often been criticized for seemingly glorifying violence in his films. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood manages to be the Tarantino film with the least amount of on screen violence but at the same time it somehow manages to have one of the most graphically and believably violent scenes I have seen to date.
Tarantino is the only filmmaker that can somehow have me laughing uncontrollably at one of the most visceral fight scenes I have ever seen – tears ran down my face as I laughed at this awfully violent, hilarious and horrifying scene. His skill as a filmmaker is to control exactly how the audience ought to feel at any one time and his ability to tread the line between realism and surrealism, comedy and drama, is unmatched in modern film making.
I was admittedly nervous about the massive run time and at times, you do feel the movie’s length. I was never completely bored or disengaged but there were definitely times where I felt that some scenes were simply there to showcase a cool shot rather than to add anything to the plot or drive the story forward in anyway. Whilst I know this was completely intentional, sometimes a ten minute scene of just watching Brad Pitt drive through old Hollywood town is a bit excessive, even for Tarantino.
The downside of being so sure of yourself as a filmmaker and being both the director and the writer means that that your process is likely void of outside criticism so we end up with the complete vision of one man and in this instance the final product is overly long, needlessly so, which will certainly put off more casual film goers. I loved this movie, but at times even I felt the conversational wank and drawn out scenes slightly on the unnecessarily long side – and that’s coming from ME.
Overall this is an exceptional film for fans of old school cinema, fans of Tarantino and those who don’t get bored just watching amazing actors chat in character for hours. Whilst knowledge of 1960s Hollywood isn’t essential it would certainly make for a more enjoyable watch as there are a ridiculous amounts of references and homage paid to this era.
However, if you enjoy a film that is driven by fantastic dialogue and aren’t put off by a slow moving beast of a film, then this film borders on being a masterpiece.
– Ashton Brown