Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood follows a faded television actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles. Following multiple storylines and serving as a modern fairy tale tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age, Rick also has a famous next-door neighbour, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), as their lives soon become intertwined in the least expected way.
Whether this is truly Tarantino’s final film or not (and I certainly don’t believe that this is the last we will be seeing of him!), he’s done what any director would want to do with their final film, and that is to make the film that they have always wanted to in exactly the way that they wanted to do it. Yet I’m left more disappointed than impressed, as this is precisely the reason why I both liked and disliked this film in equal measures.
For me, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is one of those films that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but that I really loved the idea behind. And that’s because the one thing that you have to take away from this film is Tarantino’s passion. It’s obvious that he loves westerns, with Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight being some of my favourite films of all time, and with his latest being an ode to Hollywood and film-making during this era, it’s obvious that this is his nostalgic love letter to both the genre and the art of film-making as a whole.
But this is less of a western and more of a character profile of an actor in his final years of acting. There’s a lot of time spent on DiCaprio’s character practising his lines and filming his scenes, but whilst these undeniable showcase DiCaprio’s talent, they take up a lot of the film’s time and leave it feeling lifeless rather than full of life. Because of this, I found it incredibly difficult to keep myself engaged and had almost given up on the film until its closing scenes.
It wasn’t until these final 20 minutes or so that I really woke up and actually found myself enjoying the story (and boy, did these scenes wake me up!). I could watch these closing scenes on repeat as this is what I wanted from Tarantino’s final film: one last blow out (pun intended). Sure, I didn’t want to be squirming in my seat for the whole 160-minute runtime, nor did I want the same revenge-driven gore-fest, but I just didn’t feel that the painfully slow build-up suited the well-executed, brutal climax at all.
You can’t deny the quality of Tarantino’s film-making, but I do think that he thinks more about himself than he does of his audience with this film. It’s almost as if he started to see himself in DiCaprio’s character and went off on a bit of a tangent. But whilst there are parts to the story that get in the way of the film’s overall progress, it is incredible what Tarantino does with these stories and how they come together. When the message finally comes through, that is.
It doesn’t help that the multiple stories are so contrasting and, therefore, very loosely woven together, as it’s difficult to see where the story is going until its final moments. Twitter had spoilt a certain character’s name for me, so I knew what to expect more than most of the audience did as I could see what the links were building up to. However, without this prior knowledge, I don’t think that my interest would have been piqued quite as much as it was, and even that interest was very limited.
But again, although I didn’t particularly have fun watching anything beyond the final few scenes, I do love the fairytale ending that Tarantino gives to Sharon Tate. Having watched Mindhunter Series 2 recently, I also thought I knew how this story was going to end, having learnt a bit about Tate and some of the other characters involved beforehand. But even Tarantino manages to twist and turn this in a way that you wouldn’t think he could. It is this aspect of the film that I really admire, technically giving a happy ending to a real-life person who Tarantino (and many others) believe had their life stolen away from them too young.
Although I found a lot of the story quite mundane, there are some standout scenes dotted throughout, including some iconic celebrity figures during this era, and it is the performances that keep you watching. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are both exceptional, although we really don’t get to see enough of Margot Robbie.