For nearly thirty years, writer/director Quentin Tarantino in his filmography has shown his unique style combining excellent screenplays, fantastic acting, and strong combinations of music and visuals. Whether it’s the “Stuck in the Middle with You” sequence from Reservoir Dogs, “You Never Can Tell” from Pulp Fiction, or “Woo Hoo” from Kill Bill, these are scenes that get stuck in your head from the first time you see them. In Tarantino’s ninth film (counting KIll Bill’s two volumes as one complete film) Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, all of those signature Tarantino pieces you have come to love and appreciate are all still there with one added ingredient that has gone missing up until now: restraint.
It’s February of 1969, and acting legend Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is on the downturn of his career. The former star of the TV series Bounty Law is now taking rotating gigs as the heavy (bad guy) in multiple TV series. This downturn is also affecting his best friend and stunt-double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who is also saddled with a checkered past that is now making it difficult for him to find work. Dalton also lives on a private street that happens to be right next door to Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). The film follows Dalton as he tries to resurrect his career, Tate with her rising star status, and Booth, who accidentally becomes acquaintances with members of the Manson Family.
There is a lot to like about Hollywood, with a lot of it falling on the shoulders of Pitt and DiCaprio, as well as Tarantino’s fantastic screenplay. This is the simplest of his films to follow as, unlike most of his previous works, doesn’t rely on non-linear storytelling or complicated backstories. That doesn’t mean that this is a simple film however. It is nearly two-and-a-half hours of storytelling, and it’s about these two much more than those around them. The best parts of Hollywood are when the two share the screen together, but there are plenty of opportunities where they shine apart. DiCaprio is an early lock for a Best Actor nomination, as the emotional range he had to show from confident to nervous to frustrated shows why he is one of the finest actors of our generation.
While being a really strong film overall, there is one thing I couldn’t help but notice be a little disappointed by, and that’s the need to cast Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. For someone of her acting caliber, this was more or less a nothing role for her. She looks like a young Sharon Tate, but you could have found someone with less experience than her that fits that mold and had this be a big break for her, or given the Tate character more to do than serve as the backdrop the Dalton and Booth’s story. If you have such an amazing actor at your disposal, use her to your fullest potential.
This is an atypical film for Tarantino, and if you go in with the mindset of previous works he’s done in the past and try to compare those films to Hollywood, you will probably leave scratching your head. I’m glad to see that after so long that there is still evolution to be had with Quentin’s style choices, but this just missed the mark from being great. My grade for Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is an A-.
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