“Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” was my most anticipated (perhaps tied with John Wick 3) movie of the year. When Quentin Tarantino makes a movie, it’s not just a movie, it’s an event. Having to wait a week before I was able to make it to the theatre it was hard not to eavesdrop on some of the feedback. QT movies tend to polarize opinions, even among his own diehard fans. I’ve heard some people say this was his greatest and some say it was his worst. I tried to remain objective. He’s never made a film I didn’t like. “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” is no exception. It was different than his other films and yet it still lived in his bubble of creation. I loved it.
It seems like this will be about the Mansonites, but really it centralizes around a washed up television actor named Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth looking to find a second life in the film industry during what some consider the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age in late 60’s Los Angeles. Intertwine that with the story of Sharon Tate and you have Quentin Tarantino’s take on what he thinks might have happened had he written history.
You bring Brad Pitt AND Leonardo DiCaprio together and it’s hard not to expect magic, especially when QT is a director that let’s his actors WORK. These two heavy and yet extremely generous actors let each other shine and each did their parts. Pitt and DiCaprio are probably two of the greatest actors of my generation and their performances highlighted why both of them are.
There’s a lot of love for Pitt’s role as Cliff Booth who is charming to say the least. He’s a slightly off kilter stunt guy with swag and a crooked smile and we find out pretty quick dangerous. It doesn’t hurt that Brad Pitt is getting even handsomer with time. Even so, DiCaprio stole the show for me. He played a far less charismatic and likable guy as the washed up alcoholic actor Rick Dalton. Down to his subtle stutter, slower moving bloated mannerisms, and emoting purely with his eyes he has some of the skills that you saw in both DeNiro and Brando.
Style or Substance
Once Upon A Time is all about style. It’s about dialogue and it takes it’s time embracing and chewing on the scenery which immediately connects you as an audience. There were a lot of yelps that some of the scenes ran long because of this, but that’s what I dug about it. There’s less action, violence, and page turning events than most of his other films, but that also kept you on edge waiting for an inevitable moment of shock and awe.
Is QT a self indulgent film maker? Hell yes he is. He makes the films he wants and tells them how he feels like they should be told. He embraces influences of the past, but doesn’t recycle them. There are plenty of love letters and homages paid to his heroes, but he also has no problem poking fun at them just as he used Bruce Lee in Once Upon A Time. The twist of violence and dark humor may be lost on many, but it speaks to me. I do not think this movie is for everyone. I don’t think most of QT’s movies are for everyone. For me QT films are an escape from all the other dribble that gets pumped out into theatres every day. He might meander and focus on weird details in his sets and letting tension build to a point of discomfort, but that’s the damn point. I enjoy every step of the ride.
Dialogue and the Ladies
Protests about Margot Robbie’s limited dialogue and interpretation of Sharon Tate? I’m addressing this. We either complain that QT has too much dialogue and now it’s that there is too little. I felt it was intimate. The intention was to make us feel like we were voyeurs looking in on her life and day to day. Most of her scenes she was alone. It gave the sense that either we or someone else was watching her, and since most of us are privy to how her story ends, it added an element of tension and concern. We needed to fall in love with her earnest sweetness and beauty. This heightened that sense that someone else who wanted to do her harm.
Letting Actors Work
Part of what I love about some of the moments from “Once Upon A Time” was the stillness in so many of the scenes. The best moment of the film is an exchange between DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton and young actor (not actress to be clear) Julia Butters who plays “Trudi” on the set of the movie he’s been cast as the big bad in have one of the best scene of the movie. The two of them were remarkable together and the emotion is raw. The following scenes of DiCaprio playing Rick playing the “Heavy” at the bad guy saloon was some of the most exceptional acting I’ve seen in a long time.
Another standout performance was Brandy the dog and her master Cliff at the end of a typical day and feeding time. It is an example of Tarantino using scenery and actions instead of dialogue to establish a relationship. This very simple scene between Cliff and his four legged friend reveals more about him and sets the tone for events that later transpire, with almost no dialogue.
Feet and #9
So there’s all that fantastical glory to absorb. Plus feet. Damn it QT, knock it off with the damn feet. Eww. Double ew. Plus an extra side of ew. I hate feet. But fine. It’s his thing. Even down to the authenticity of the dirty feet.
I feel like Tarantino makes movies just with me in mind and that also makes me understand they aren’t for everyone. Many were inspired to drop their lists of his “9” films and in order. It might not be my number one, but it’s still one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time and I have only minor criticism’s. There’s something nostalgic and yet fresh about “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”. You may find yourself wanting to speed to the end, but you also don’t want it to stop. You know everything has some level of impact on that final destination, but the best part was taking the ride there. When you watch this movie, you need to stop and just be in the moment and enjoy every second of what it’s delivering. Tarantino did his thing. On his terms. I can’t wait to see it again.
Just for fun my favorite QT films from best to worst (I love them all so this isn’t a slight to any)
- Inglourious Basterds
- Pulp Fiction
- Kill Bill
- Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
- The Hateful Eight
- Reservoir Dogs
- Django Unchained
- Jackie Brown
- Death Proof