Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood - Review
Sometimes movies supersede being merely entertainment and become and event. The Avengers films are like that. So are Star Wars movies. But outside of that genre, there are only a handful of "event" films. Quentin Tarantino's movies are "events". His latest, Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood, is an unexpectedly sweet fairy tale that serves as a love story to 1960s Hollywood.
Quentin Tarantino loves to play with history. Inglourious Basterds did that by just killing Hitler. This time he plays with the narrative of Sharon Tate and Charlie Manson.
The film begins as a "day in the life" of a struggling actor named Rick Dalton played by Leonardo DiCaprio. It is a commentary on how hard the shift from TV to movies was then. That line is blurred now, but there was a huge divide back then. Leo anchors the film with Brad Pitt, who gives a career best performance. DiCaprio was as solid and reliable as ever, but Pitt's performance was very surprising. If you were to tell me that Pitt was better than DiCaprio, I wouldn't have believed you. But it's true. If Pitt were to ever get any Oscar love, it would be for this.
The first act is quite choppy and feels disconnected. But that is on purpose. Nothing in a Tarantino movie is on accident. It conveys the yin and yang of an actors life. On the one hand you have Rick Dalton, who is relegated to being the "guest of the week" villain on various TV shows. On the other, you have Sharon Tate, who was rapidly becoming one of the biggest movie stars in the world. The contrast is laid out well, but sometimes it feels like two different movies.
Tarantino does disjointed well, as demonstrated in Pulp Fiction. I had no doubt that it would all come together in third act, and I was not disappointed. He brings it together in a way only Tarantino can, and it is so much fun.
It was weird watching a Tarantino film that had an inherent sweetness to it. Sure, there was still the over the top violence, tension, and drug use. But the overall theme of movie is sweet. It is the Hollywood that Tarantino saw as a little boy growing up there, through rose colored glasses. The narrative sets the story on a course that he wished had continued, instead of the way it actually went.
Movie makers love making movies about the movie business. There is no one who loves movies more than Tarantino, so for him to have not made a Hollywood-centric film before is actually quite surprising. Think of a fond memory from your childhood. Think of a location or a setting, or a general atmosphere that was pleasing to you as a child. Now combine that with the talent of one of the best filmmakers to do ever do it, and you get Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
The rest of the cast outside of DiCaprio and Pitt are great too. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, and a lot of the scenes make it feel like Tarantino is in love with either Robbie, Tate, or both. The late Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern all have small but memorable roles in the film. They got to pop in, have some fun, and pop out. It freed them from having to carry the film, and they were all the better for it. Russell even did a bit of the narrating, which seemed like an odd choice, given which character he played.
There were cameos from other people too, like Lena Dunham, and Uma Thurman's daughter Maya Hawke. If Tarantino made this exact movie in the 1990s, there is a 100% chance that Thurman would have played Sharon Tate.
The previews sell Charlie Manson's presence in the movie, but that is misleading. Yes, he is present. But he looms large in the background. It is his cult that takes front and center, in a very tense and entertaining sequence with Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth. The result of which pays off in the most entertaining sequence in the movie when the story reaches the climax in the third act. "Adjacent" stories are interesting to me. This was a fictional "adjacent" story with a twist. This story was going on at the same time as the Charlie Mansion/Sharon Tate story. We've head that story before, so this one tells a different one with that story going on in the background. Since it's fictional, Tarantino was able to make it tie in how he wanted, and it rests on its own laurels because of it. If it had to rely too heavily on Manson, the film would have suffered.
The last few Tarantino movies have been pessimistic, dark, and borderline nihilistic. This one has the same energy as Inglorious Basterds but is much more upbeat and optimistic. He took something he loved (1960s Hollywood) and treated it with respect. It was a little pocket of positivity in a sea of negativity. This charming little fairy tale is happening during the Manson Cult and the Vietnam War. There are much nastier stories to tell.
When the movie first ended, I really liked it. But I think it has turned into love now. The point of the movies is that you can tell whatever story you want. They are an escape from the real world, and help people forget about their problems. Tarantino does that masterfully with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and once you get on board with what he's doing, there is no funner a time at the movies.
It is too early for me to give this a definitive rank among Tarantino's 8 other movies, but it would be high up there for me. It is an honor and a privilege to be living in a time where this man is still making films. I can't wait to watch it again.
Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood is now playing in theaters everywhere.