REVIEW: ‘Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood’

The release of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film (of ten…maybe), Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, is finally here, and, oh boy, is it a doozy. As a fan of Tarantino’s work to varying degrees, I’m always down for a new Tarantino adventure – even the films I’d put at the bottom of the list are still worth watching at least once for the “Tarantino experience.” As a director, Quentin is known for his kinetic, witty dialogue, blood-soaked action, endless film homages, inexplicable amounts of shots focused solely on feet (perv), and iconic cinematography (not all focusing on feet). With Once Upon a Time… Quentin checks all of those boxes and spreads his wings to do things he hasn’t before – to varying degrees of success. Overall, what we’re left with is a solid movie that is heightened by outstanding performances from the ever-dependable Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. What you get out of the experience depends completely on your expectations going in…

The film takes place mostly in 1969 and follows Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), a fictional former Western-era superstar whose star is now dimming as quickly as the times are a-changin’. Along for the ride is his friend and former stunt double-turned-chauffeur/handyman, Cliff Booth (Pitt). Together, they try to keep Dalton’s career afloat all while being tangled up in one of the most infamous losses of innocence in American history, the Manson Murders. That’s really all you need to know or should know going into the film.

Going back to expectations, what you should expect is a story about friendship/brotherhood wrapped in a love letter to a by-gone era of Hollywood filmmaking. Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), The Manson Family, Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, and the like are all swirling around our downtrodden, beloved shmucks to give the guts of the story more nuance and meaning …and obviously, he’s going to get really weird with the feet thing again.

The genius of Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is resting the movie squarely on the shoulders of DiCaprio and Pitt, who each give career defining performances, which is really saying something when you look at their careers, in general. Robbie, who is in a role smaller than advertised (Sharon Tate) as far as lines and screentime goes, but is vital to the film as a whole due to what she represents. Needless to say, her presence is felt and looms largely throughout. We also see delightful cameos from Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Timothy Olyphant, Maya Hawke, Austin Butler, Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham, Scoot McNairy, and many, many more. All of whom are more than willing to take anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes of screen time in a Tarantino movie – most of them really make those seconds count.

However, the real secret weapons for Tarantino come in his cinematographer, Robert Richardson, his production designer, Barbara Ling, his set decorator, Nancy Haigh, and his costume designer, Arianne Phillips – all of whom are working at the top of their game and, along with Quentin’s obsessive eye, really bring the late sixties and fifties back to life in a multitude of delicious ways.

Ultimately, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood is a fairy tale experience that only Tarantino could deliver. It’s a film paced more slowly than expected but is packed to the gills with character, love, thrills, gore, dirty hippies, and, somehow, an upbeat sense of hopefulness. If this truly is the second-to-last movie we get out of Mr. Tarantino, he’s showing no signs of diminishing returns.


Mike's Rating
Mike DeAngelo
Mike DeAngelo is a husband, father, superhero enthusiast, and all-around film lover that hails from the mostly-frigid Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When he’s not watching movies, he’s probably thinking, writing, and talking about movies. When he’s not watching, thinking, writing, or talking about movies, he’s probably sleeping or changing diapers. He began his film-writing obsession a few years back on a site called Back to the Features and recently brought his talents to FandomWire because he needs more movie-obsessed friends. Mike also works with a Software-as-a-Service company named Zywave, as, let’s face it, film-writing doesn’t pay the bills these days.