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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Movie Review

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Movie Review

Rating: A (Fantastic)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

Over the last decade, Quentin Tarantino has shifted his focus towards creating his own vision of history. With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he brings us an almost nostalgic remembrance of the Los Angeles of his youth, a time when stars were less likely to lock their doors and the film industry was going through major changes. Jumping between three central figures, Tarantino has made what is a surprisingly heartwarming film. There is a certain amount of sympathy he has for both Leonardo DiCaprio’s television actor Rick Dalton and Margot Robbie’s budding actress Sharon Tate and that makes this movie especially stand out in his filmography.

What Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does so marvelously is become a time machine to Tinseltown in 1969. Tarantino revels in the swinging and free-wheeling attitudes of the era, whether coming from the famous young couple living on Cielo Drive or the more dangerous Manson Family hiding out on an abandoned movie ranch. He also uses the time period as an opportunity to comment on shifting tastes in film audiences. Dalton is almost stuck in his ways, still wanting to relive his glory western years. Next door to him are Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, starring in and making films that appeal to a different generation. And yet, Tarantino is still sympathetic towards Dalton. He could have been written as the stereotypical primadonna actor, but DiCaprio instead portrays a person just trying his best and wanting to show his thespian prowess.

DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, as his stunt double Cliff Booth, don’t share as much screentime as one might think, but that fits with the narrative Tarantino has devised. The movie gives Dalton, Booth and Tate their own individual storylines and we follow each of them on their journeys. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a hang-out movie, not unlike his Elmore Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown, and it’s an enthralling one. Dalton’s scenes mostly involve him on a television series set and Tarantino develops a clever way of showing the episode being filmed. Filmmaking is rarely portrayed in an accurate way in movies and yet that isn’t something that runs through one’s mind during these scenes.

Booth’s encounter with the Manson Family provides its compelling narrative and anyone with knowledge of these strange cultists will feel a sense of unease, when Booth walks into Spahn Ranch. Sharon Tate’s role is minor, as she mostly exists in the background. However, Margot Robbie makes the most of her screentime and she gives Tate the appropriately bubbly personality and someone with a genuine excitement at her growing film career. It’s clear how much Tarantino reveres her and there is a warmness whenever she walks into frame. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood becomes a lovely tribute to Tate, a charming woman whose life was unfortunately taken far too soon.

Even at two hours and forty minutes, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood never feels its length and nicely flows from scene to scene. For most people with a fascination for Hollywood in the 1960s, this movie will be catnip. Quentin Tarantino’s penchant for unique dialogue and unpredictable plot threads continues here and even though he fills the cast with many names, the film really does belong to DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie. These are people worth following through the entire runtime. This film is not merely a love letter to the movies of the decade, but of movie going in general.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison