The newest installment to the Tarantino anthology, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like Quentin’s love letter to classic Hollywood. The film follows Rick Dalton, (Leonardo DiCaprio) a TV actor desperately trying to keep his head above water to not become a has-been, and his best friend, errand boy, stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Early on in the movie you come to find out that Rick Dalton lives on Cielo Drive right next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Although this movie isn’t necessarily about the Manson Family and the horrendous murders that took place, it definitely still plays a role in the film. I’m not going to go into any more detail about what that means because I feel like it spoils the fun of the movie. This was not my favorite Tarantino film by all means, but it’s still Tarantino, and it’s still an enjoyable film.
One thing that you can come to expect with any Tarantino film is the over stylized attention to detail, and this film is no stranger to this concept. All of the costumes, set designs, props and overall aesthetic of the film were perfect. It actually made me feel like everything that I was seeing was filmed in the past. There are a few driving sequences that really had my jaw on the floor. You are watching our characters having a conversation while they drive through neighborhoods and street corners and every car/building/house/mailbox that passes by them in the background looks straight out of that time period. I was sitting there trying to figure out how they pulled this off. Was it real? Or was it created digitally? I still cannot tell you which it was because it looks THAT REAL. This kind of attention to detail is what the magic of cinema is all about and what can turn an okay film into a great one.
To me personally, the intricate conversations are what I love most about Tarantino movies. Characters hashing out very complicated monologues about a particular story or experience they’ve had as it relates to the situation at hand. Tarantino truly is the master of dialogue. The best way I can describe it is to imagine the complexity of a professional ballet performance vs a college student’s interpretive dance routine. Both can be entertaining and engaging to witness, but you can tell that one was choreographed by a master rather than a novice. Tarantino is a master choreographer of conversation and to me this is what draws me to his films again and again. Unfortunately, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may be his worst representation of his conversational choreography that I’ve seen yet. The story revolves around the metaphor of his own life as it pertains to Rick Dalton’s conquest of maintaining his career as a leading man, rather than a supporting character. The focus of the film is the essence of late 60’s Hollywood rather than telling a compelling story with tension and conflict. I kept waiting for a story or plot to develop throughout the first half of the film before I realized that there wasn’t going to be one. There’s one scene in particular, about half way through, where tension starts building, things start falling into place, you’re on the edge of your seat, and then as quickly as it came it just ends. You’re left to wonder why the story didn’t take its route down this path instead of leaving us high and dry.
Leo and Brad are absolutely wonderful in this film. I think the only reason I did enjoy this movie was because of their performances. If Tarantino had casted any other actors as the leads, I think this film would have been flat and boring. They both truly put the weight of the film on their backs and carried it to the bitter end. They have great on screen chemistry together and are hilarious to boot. There isn’t a real plot to the film it’s more of a slice of life, mid life crisis type of movie. Your gaze is focused on the experiences of these two characters and the hardships they face in this Hollywood time capsule.
The best way I can express how I feel about this film is to relate it to music. Think of your all time favorite band or musician. Now take a look at all of the albums they have made, and I bet you can name one album in particular where they tried to deviate from their normal sound that just doesn’t resonate with you. You still enjoy the album because your favorite band made it, but it still feels subpar from what you’ve come to expect. That’s how I feel about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I still enjoyed the film because I’m a Tarantino fanboy and always will be, but this one takes on a new style that didn’t resonate with me as well as the rest of his catalogue.