In Quentin Tarantino’s ninth movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his love letter to the ’60s has fun playing in the world but bloats an interesting character study.
As a fan of Tarantino’s movies (I haven’t watched The Hateful Eight for a laundry list of reasons), I was excited to see this after seeing the trailer in theaters. I mean, cool ’60s vibes and Leo dancing; what more can you want?
Well, turns out I wanted a fulfilling, concise narrative with consistent pacing over the 2 hour and 40-minute movie.
Okay, okay, don’t get me wrong; Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was a lot of fun, and I’m not saying it was a bad movie overall. Just, compared to his other movies, Tarantino got caught up in having fun with making the movie. I know, I sound terrible. Of course, he should have fun making a movie. But, let’s look at what we have.
For those who don’t know, this is how a Tarantino movie plays out: Multiple stories, time-lapses/narrative rerouting, multiple homages and fanfare, a cast of stars, shots focused on feet, and then an ending that usually ties everything up. Got it? Good.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows that pretty well so which part made me wanting more? Well, there are two main storylines.
The first storyline is a 1a and 1b kind of situation, focusing on leading man/fizzling actor Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his faithful friend/stunt double Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt). Dalton has made a career of being a Western star, but he is currently struggling to get his groove back. Booth has been cruising with a simple life being Dalton’s shadow for work. Watching Dalton try to recapture his glory while dealing with his insecurities and dealing is an intriguing character study that captivated me and kept me invested. This, coupled with Cliff Booth understanding his career is tied to this man, provides us with a focused narrative enjoying the 1960s.
The second storyline was where the disappointment came. Margo Robbie plays Sharon Tate (yes, Sharon Tate in the late 60’s). The actress is coming off the release of her new movie, The Wrecking Crew, enjoying new success and the good life of marriage to Roman Polanski and Hollywood living. Though her storyline helped establish the world and let us have fun in Hollywood, it ultimately does nothing to help with the story, even slowing the pacing.
To be honest, everyone did a phenomenal job. When it comes to the performances on screen, it’s one of those rare occasions where there isn’t a visible weak link. Even Al Pacino, who recently has been publicly viewed as kind of insane, put in a solid performance.
Unsurprisingly, Leo steals the show and commands the audience. It was reported that he took a pay cut to work with Tarantino again so Quentin should count his stars and consider himself lucky for having a truly amazing performance for a bargain. Brad Pitt does well displaying his trademark charisma and charm, and Margo Robbie delivers with her doey-eyed perspective of brand new Hollywood.
Naturally, with this being a Tarantino movie, the film is beautiful to look at. The color palette, which is enhanced with clips of old Hollywood movies being shown for story purposes, gives the period piece a great warm feeling. Seeing the likes of DiCaprio standing next to older actors was a treat.
The cinematography, masterly shot by Robert Richardson, hit on the Tarantino feel we all love and appreciate. Ranging from the creative movements to the well-placed framing, the movie is a visual dessert. This is aided by the effective job the set design team and wardrobe and make-up did to round out the 60’s feel, giving our story an aesthetic home.
In recent Tarantino fashion, this movie indulges on story building. There are plenty of scenes where an old Rick Dalton movie is referenced, and we are taken out of the story to watch a scene from the past project. Though fun at times, it can mess up the flow of the movie, especially feeling a bit excessive in the first act.
Like I said before, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a lot of fun. The music, the feel, and the journey it takes us on makes the overall experience a fun watch. I won’t lie, certain times I felt like I was watching Tarantino make a Scorsese film.
Yet, I did find myself being bogged down by the film’s pacing. It’s not uncommon for a Tarantino movie to run well over 2 hours, but certain aspects of the movie definitely felt a bit too indulgent and made me want more of the main story.
Final thought – If you are a fan of Tarantino, I would definitely check this out at some point, whether in theaters or in the comfort of your own home. If you don’t know or don’t like Tarantino, indulge if you enjoy the cast and are down with ’60s vibes. DiCaprio’s performance alone is worth at least one watch through.
P.S. Enjoy the website of this movie. I will make a mission of mine to check every film website I view to see if they put effort into it. Boy, it’s a fun one.