Quentin Tarantino continues to flex his mastery at filmmaking. A period piece that takes a twist on a dark part of history into a more humorous walk down 1969 where hippies smoked pot, and famous people died. While missing some flavors that are usually expected from the legendary creator, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood still hits hard in all the ways I wanted.
Actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) try to survive in the brutal world of entertainment in Los Angeles. In the style of Pulp Fiction, their story bumps and moves past Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) while slipping by Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and his cult of inevitable killers. Like any Tarantino flick, this has the humor, violence, his foot fetish, and writing style that should be expected while having that tedious, slow burn, which in this case lacks enough spikes of excitement unlike some of his previous efforts.
The veteran filmmaker continues to deliver excellent directing, but the true gem of any of his nine movies and other creations is the writing. The dialogue and memorable characters leave the story behind in a delightful way. While there are not iconic lines or scenes like other Tarantino movies, this still has the personality that I look to experiencing with every one of his releases.
The script, along with the talent, allows for nuanced characters that feel alive. This world is living, so conversations make references that nod towards the history of these people, whether it is based on fact or fiction.
DiCaprio and others give out some of their best performances, even stars who have been acting for decades longer than the Scorsese favored actor. Pitt and DiCaprio have a bond that feels genuine. Robbie’s distant world is joyful with plenty of mystery lingering in the background as I wonder how Tarantino will twist the infamous murder in the same way he did with World War 2 when Inglourious Basterds released.
The craftmanship of recreating this decade is masterfully done. The color and vibe bring the glamorized version of the 60s and its darker side to life. Arianne Phillips’ costume design, Barbara Ling’s production design, and the rest of the crew help steer down the road of this nostalgic love letter.
Rather than spitting on the graves of those who were slain by Manson’s crew of psychopathic hippies, Tarantino pays his respect to Tate and others in a surprising and meaningful way.
Shifts from the modern look of the main narrative and an old school aesthetic with showing clips from Rick’s career transformed the movie viewing experience. The advanced technology gives a cleaner look when shooting, but taking those steps back to show snippets of Westerns that Rick starred in or movies that feature Sharon takes that extra step to immerse in this beautiful vintage throwback to California.
The clothes, cars, and colorful visuals have style, but none of those aspects compare to the soundtrack. From classic rock tunes to more obscure tracks, this blast from the past is full of ear and eye candy.
The choice of Kurt Russell’s narration that heavily gets utilized in the final act feels unnecessary. It cuts quick into giving a backstory for characters and lends information to what is happening on in the narrative. Telling the story like it was from the previous two hours or having Russell’s voice-over being more consistent throughout the film would make it suitable. Instead, it makes parts of the climax feel slightly rushed.
Tarantino’s ninth time in the director’s chair surely pays off well. It is not his highest accomplishment with a lack of standout scenes, which is mainly due to inconsistent hits with the humor. The final act had me laughing hard, but the rest was a more amused smile. Despite some lackluster elements and anticlimactic story, I would rather rewatch Once Upon a Time In Hollywood over most movies.
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Image via Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment