About four years ago, Tarantino finally underwhelmed me. Even though The Hateful Eight was an enjoyable film, I didn’t quite connect with it. In comparison to his other films it lacked the usual wow factor as a whole, in my opinion. However, that Samuel L. Jackson monologue was worth the ticket price. Fast forward to now. And here we are! Another new Tarantino film. Starring A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time is the ultimate buddy movie. Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, TV actor and stuntman, have been inseparable since working together on Dalton’s hit show “Bounty Law.” Leo’s character amassed great fame playing a gun-slinging bounty killer. Yet at the start of the film no one seems to care about him anymore. He broke away from “Bounty Law” to pursue a feature-film career — to no avail. Cliff’s been out of work for years.
We learn that Rick Dalton is a drunkard and pays Cliff to be his driver and housekeeper. To makes ends meet he accepts one-episode villain roles on popular television programs. Oh, by the way, this film occurs in 1969. In his day, Dalton fit the bill of a Hollywood leading man. Nevertheless, as time passed, studios wanted a newer, shaggier star for their films and TV shows. A wealthy producer named Marvin Schwarzs sees Rick’s talent but thinks he’s wasting his potential. He opens Rick’s eyes to the reality of his situation. The more people see him losing fights on television every night, the less they will think of him. As a result, fewer leading roles will slide his way. Once Rick realizes this is true, he nearly has a mental breakdown. Cliff consoles him on the drive home and the film essentially begins.
This inciting incident happens earlier than I anticipated. Then again, this is a long movie. Additionally, it is one unlike many of Quentin’s previous works. For me it was a refreshing change of pace from his bloodbath films like Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, and Inglorious Basterds. While I love all three of those films, it’s nice to see less gore and more flare. Tarantino has always been one of Hollywood’s sharpest, slickest, and wittiest filmmakers. And here he pulled out all the stops. The costumes and set designs are feats on their own. The world this production team creates in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of precise detail, dripping in nostalgia. Although I wasn’t born until the 90’s, I felt right at home in 1969 during my two theater visits. Despite hardly any black people appearing in this movie, the plot engaged me enough to ignore it.
It’s not like Hollywood has ever been a place for blacks anyway. Especially not in the 60’s. Moving on, as expected, Tarantino’s pen delivers yet again. A few of these punchlines, particularly in Pitt’s case, had me bursting with laughter. Even the second viewing cracked me up. Cliff Booth is the Brad Pitt character every American deserves. He’s handy, down-to-Earth, and tough as nails. Leo presents an Oscar-nod performance, and one of his all-time best. Now, I’m not just saying that. I know a lot of people think every Leo role deserves an Oscar. But this time it is beyond legitimate. For his post-Titanic career I’d place this performance in his top three alongside Calvin Candie and Hugh Glass. The actor chemistry is nothing short of stellar in this film. Al Pacino (Marvin Schwarzs), Kurt Russell (Randy), and Margot Robbie round out this all-star cast.
For those thirsty for anything featuring Robbie, calm your tits. Her character functions more like an accessory to the story than a fleshed-out character. She plays Sharon Tate, a real-life actor whose life ended far too soon. In this retelling of the Manson family murders from that time period, Tarantino spares Tate’s life, which I thought was pretty cool. I would’ve liked Margot’s incredible acting talent put more on display, but it is what it is. All in all, Once Upon a Time separates itself from the current cinema landscape. Nothing like it will release in 2019. That is the norm for Tarantino films however. His style will go down as arguably the most iconic in movie history. This is another fine installment, but far from his finest. It doesn’t quite crack my top-five in his behemoth filmography. Yet this is perhaps his most agreeable one to date.
Here he minimizes violence, saving it almost wholly for the very end, and highlights equality and mental health. For the current times, this is a monumental film. Conversely, looking ahead, I envision this film slipping under many viewers’ radars. A glaring blemish of this film is the droopy midsection. When Dalton heads to Italy to star in spaghetti westerns, the plot thins for about half an hour. This makes an already lengthy film feel even longer. Also, Mike Moh’s portrayal of Bruce Lee missed the mark for me. Although Moh’s performance is stellar, Quentin’s character is proud and somewhat childish. I didn’t know Bruce personally, of course, but he never came across like that in any of his interviews, lectures, or peer observations. Tarantino dropped the ball just a bit on that one, if you ask me. Alas, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood remains a must-see this summer.