Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Brad Pitt Leonardo DiCaprio review

Year: 2019
Director(s): Quentin Tarantino
Writer(s): Quentin Tarantino
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 161 mins

Synopsis: A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles. (Source)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino at his most extra. It’s the film he’s worked his entire career towards, and though it isn’t yet my favorite, it’s also one of his most gripping, complex and thought-provoking. If anything, the film is proof that Tarantino as an artist has always been who he’s going to be. Sure, he’s shifted and matured over time, but for the most part, we’ve been catching up to him, not the other way around. Everything that has been a part of Tarantino’s trademarks are here, amplified and put up on screen at its most meta and reflexive. It’s the good, the bad the problematic all rolled into one. But you know what? It feels wrong to ask for it any other way.

In 1969, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a once-famous Western TV star who tried and failed to get a movie career going. His descent into alcoholism has also stuck him in a rut creatively and personally. Enter his best friend and sometimes stunt-double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Cliff is himself running from a shady past and aside from being Dalton’s right hand man, can’t mange to land much new work for himself. Together, both are on the edge of a changing industry. Amidst all of this, Rick’s neighbors are one of Hollywood’s hottest couples, consisting of a hit director and his rising actor wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Over a period of two sweltering summer days, all of their individual stories expand, collide and converge.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood review Leonardo DiCaprio

In every respect, Tarantino’s personal love letter to a fully romanticized version of 1960s Hollywood jumps headfirst into a singular truth – movies not only capture the good and bad in us so transparently, they’re also profound explorations of truth and catharsis through fiction. This is seen both literally and symbolically throughout the film’s increasingly meta approach. Tarantino’s own work, fact, fiction and lies all converge into something that’s inexplicable yet hard to not enjoy. In leaning completely into a dark era of Hollywood with unabashed innocence, Tarantino forces us to confront modern realities and past fallacies, even as we’re laughing at the expense of his quirky characters. This is truly the most gripping kind of time capsule. While it doesn’t offer a corrective view of the unease that lies beneath the surface, it also doesn’t pretend about where we’ve come from or how its candy-coated lenses look in today’s more sobering light. 

Bottom line, this is going to be a work that we’re talking about for a long time. It’s defiantly provocative, endlessly self indulgent and as entertaining as it is critical and melancholy. Even with my own complicated feelings on a lot of the story’s points, I can’t deny its revisionist catharsis and how Tarantino has brought such a dense era to life. This isn’t a film that wants to behave in any way. For that it can’t or shouldn’t be for everyone. But I also stand in awe at it as a thoroughly challenging portrait that manages to have its cake and eat it too. In a world where artists aren’t allowed to talk out of turn or even fail, the film is a testament of a bold vision that can’t be contained. 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood review Margot Robbie

Just like Tarantino’s own grandiose scope, the ensemble is stacked. If we’re just sticking to the primaries, the trio of Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie offer different types of charm. DiCaprio and Pitt’s Rick and Cliff are entertaining both alone and together. Each are dealing with their own set of issues, both at the crossroads of an uncertain future and fading pasts. Together, they are two parts that create one whole, with each contributing to their already esteemed careers with new cinematic icons. Robbie’s Sharon Tate is understandably left as the film’s symbolic heart. The story views her only from a distance and never demystifies a certain ideal of her. This isn’t her biopic, but Robbie still brings a lot to Tate without needing to say anything. She literally dances in and out of certain scenes, untouched by the gradually dark world around her. To see her in this way is undeniably touching and unexpected. On the fringes of the big three, Austin Butler’s Tex, Julia Butters’ method-acting Trudi and Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee are scene-stealing disruptors that pull the rug from beneath us. Of course, there are numerous cameos throughout, and no weak link.

At nearly three hours, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a behemoth too dense for just one review. There’s bound to be multiple essays about the film’s triggering qualities, and I’m sure many will be great and necessary. With its blend of genuine buddy comedy and a piercing realization of how our view of the past changes with each day, the film celebrates cinema as a gift that reconciles the fleeting nature of time and place.