The 9th film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino has arrived and Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is a cinematic experience, unlike anything audiences, have ever witnessed before. It is Tarantino’s love letter to the film industry and to a unique time in Hollywood’s collected memory and it takes cinemagoers for one crazy and original ride.
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore. The ninth film from the writer-director features a large ensemble cast and multiple storylines in a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age.
As a piece of work, Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood feels like it’s the culmination of everything that Quentin Tarantino has done in his career. All of his previous cinematic titles have led to this monumental work, Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood and it undoubtedly reigns as QT’s masterpiece wrapping its audience fully into its director’s story.
Conceived as Tarantino’s love letter to the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood and Los Angeles, Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood takes its audience for a ride. Shot with a fairy tale motif, this multi-arched story pulls audiences into its diverse group of characters and setting, and it’s an utterly marvellous experience. Tarantino has always said that he wants to get a reaction out of his audience and he does here with Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood.
Taking the lead in Tarantino’s 9th film is none other than supreme acting talent and Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio. Starring as fading TV actor Rick Dalton, a man who at one point had a good measure of success in his life, but whom now is starting to fear that his career and life are at an end. And let it be heard that DiCaprio is absolutely brilliant in his portrayal of Rick. DiCaprio’s Rick is the ultimate prima donna and is constantly plagued by and expressive of ego, anxiety, narcissism and a severe self-loathing and all of it is incredibly captivating to watch.
As a character Rick is obsessed with his fading star power and how this weighs on him, in several astoundingly realised scenes, is incredible to witness as we get to see Tarantino’s hand in shaping DiCaprio’s performance. You really feel for Rick throughout the entire story and this all comes back to the performance on DiCaprio’s part who steps out of himself and fully into the role of Rick. Performances don’t come much better than this and it’s a credit to both the star and his director.
Standing beside DiCaprio is Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, Rick’s longtime stunt double and best friend and Pitt brings the cool factor here. While Rick might be on the ropes, Cliff is flat out on the canvas and this dynamic between these two men, and their place in this changing Hollywood landscape is extremely fun to watch.
In terms of characterization, Cliff is a straight-up cowboy. Tough, strong-willed and capable, Cliff has a real sense of calm about him and the ability to handle any situation. Which leads into some very interesting moments up on the screen. Pitt’s portrait of Cliff is that of the heroic figure of another time and he brings plenty of strength to this badass stuntman. Pitt also fits in well with the relationship dynamic that exists between himself and DiCaprio’s Rick, and he offers Rick a solid foundation and a credible anchor in his crazy and hectic life. Both performers share a great back and forth between one another and each of them adds to the other’s performance and this partnership is what makes for the success of the film.
Balancing out the presence of DiCaprio and Pitt is Margot Robbie in the role of Sharon Tate, the glowing Hollywood beauty of the moment whose mark on Tinseltown was filled by shocking infamy. Here in Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood, Robbie’s Sharon is the sunny glow of the picture and she fills every frame with a beautiful sense of light and love. The actress is perfectly cast as this 1960s It Girl and she effortlessly merges herself into the character that Tarantino has written.
In regards to the film’s narrative, Sharon Tate occupies a unique place within the director’s narrative and her presence directs the audience’s focus. On her behalf, Robbie’s performance takes on a very physical presence and she communicates her role via action over dialogue and her very physical performance leaves its mark on her audience.
If you desire to feel that QT feeling, well, you’re in luck because Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is a film jam-packed full of the director’s trademark energy and style and it’s a piece of cinema that’s easy to get lost in. Everything, from cinematography to wardrobe, hair and make-up and the incredible set design fully resurrects the landscape of Hollywood, 1969, and Tarantino fully captures that feeling of change that is present in the air. Here the slick cool of the earlier part of the decade clashes with the ensuing sense of free love that is circulating through the streets of Hollywood Boulevard and it makes the film’s narrative pop. The groove factor is dialled up here and it doesn’t get much cooler than the crisp images that are presented up on the screen, all of which are captured in beautiful detail thanks to the lens of cinematographer Robert Richardson.
Alongside his stylistic portrait of the era, Tarantino also captures the very essence of Hollywood at that time. This was an era where huge change was occurring. The classic studio system was beginning to crumble, and the New Hollywood wave was breaking all the rules and the rise of the international market, particularly the Spaghetti Western, was spearheading what cinema was going to look like in the future.
Tarantino explores all of this in considerable depth within his film, and he does so in an extremely clever and articulate way that makes audiences sit up and take notice. As a cinematic artist, Tarantino has always been lauded for his extensive knowledge of all things pop culture and this knowledge finds good use here as he takes us into Rick Dalton’s world within the space of 1960s television. The writer-director presents all of this to his audience with incredible detail and spot-on knowledge and it is something incredible to witness.
In terms of genre and character, Tarantino goes to town here with his film and the finished print is something quite extraordinary. While Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is very much a fairy tale story of Los Angeles and Hollywood of yesteryear, the director also pulls together a collection of different genres within the film. Everything from your classic drama and comedy troupes to the presence of the car movie, the buddy movie and even certain documentary filmmaking stylings making their way into Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood. Tarantino’s favourite genre, the western, is also a significant part of the make-up of this film, and its presence is felt in structure, craft, characterization and narrative plot elements. All of these genre musings twist together to capture the audience’s attention thanks to the beautiful respect for the art of filmmaking that Tarantino pays homage to here.
For those seeking a cinematic experience with Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood, well you can be damn sure that Tarantino delivers it here. This is a director who has always prided himself on delivering something different for his audience with every single one of his movies and he doesn’t disappoint in his 9th film.
While I’ve avoided any kind of narrative description of Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood, I will say that this film simply put is a ‘Tarantino Film’. And it delivers to this description. As previously stated, Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is the ultimate example of Tarantino’s work as a filmmaker and he takes his audience for one very original ride. You never know which corner the director is going to take and the result is simply marvellous to look upon.
Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s ultimate love letter to the craft of filmmaking and the power of cinema. It is the culmination of a thirty-year career and all of the cinematic choices and rule-breaking that this maverick filmmaker has made through it and the result is utterly brilliant to look upon. Powerful in its originality and captured with perfect vision, this is a piece of cinema to be studied, lauded and loved. The cinema was made for a film like Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood and it is the exact reason why we go to the movies.
Image: Sony Pictures