Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is yet another dive into the what if concept that director Quentin Tarintino is so fond of. It follows the story of Cliff (Brad Pitt), a part-time stuntman, and Rick (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fading movie star, as they traverse the complex world of Hollywood, stardom, and cults.
Quentin Tarintino’s stellar and stylish homage graces the big screen, in all its vintage glory. With DiCaprio and Pitt as leads, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood brings the golden age Hollywood back to gleaming life, all with Tarintino’s vision as the guiding hand. Much like you’d expect to see in films like Inglorious Basterds (2009) or Pulp Fiction (1994) – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood treats its characters equally; neither favoring Cliff (Pitt) nor Rick (DiCaprio) as leading roles, but rather, a shared duo.
Cliff is a rough n’ tough stuntman with a hardened and honed personality; he supposedly has a sketchy past yet the film often alludes to that past as perhaps being one of fiction. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) on the other hand is emotional and erratic – he’s an alcoholic and a workaholic, living in direct contrast alongside Cliff. These two men have a strong friendship that is held up as one of the films main themes; their companionship and chemistry on screen makes for a flavourful experience of two polar personalities working in unison.
This is perhaps the first time in a long time that two characters in such leading positions provide equally powerful performances; I struggle to pick between DiCaprio and Pitt, as both shine in their respective fields. Pitt has never felt so natural in a role before, from his unique masculine mannerisms to his goofy antics and comedic timing – this is perhaps Brad Pitt at his absolute best. DiCaprio’s unstable demeanor veiled with spurts of utter confidence in himself provides for a heartful and truly hilarious performance. The times where he loses his cool and falls into a pit of emotionality are the absolute highlights of the film. Following just behind is Margot Robbie, who speaks very few words but her presence shines brightly, embodying the memory of Sharon Tate in all her youthful elegance and charm.
In what felt like a relatively quick film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has an over two and a half hour runtime – one that goes lightning quick due to its well-structured setup. As we move from moment to moment we began to realize that this film felt as though it was made up of multiple smaller stories, each with their own lesson, each with their own message. By the films end, it doesn’t really feel like you’ve watched something long and linear – a byproduct of its peculiar structure.
The cinematography that is utilized in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn’t as flashy as you would expect from a Tarantino film, as the film captures two different generational uses of the camera. The film feels as if it were made in the 1960’s due to it being shot on film – with grain and saturation. There are certain sequences that let the camera linger on its actors to draw out a hefty emotional impact and allow them to encompass their abilities in their performance. Other sequences stand-out through the use of excellent choreography and a stunning colour grade where the vibrant colours bleed through the frame.
Quentin Tarantino injects a high-level of passion in transforming four blocks of the Hollywood Boulevard into an authentic piece of 1969 Los Angeles. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has some of the best-demonstrated production design efforts I have seen in recent memory, as each detail has been intensely researched such as the advertisements, road signage, and cars in the backdrop. Creating these kinds of sets without the assistance of CGI allows the film to feel more authentic and in turn, allows the audience to feel more connected to the film. The soundtrack features classic songs from the 1960’s era which helped build the atmosphere and absorb you into the world that Tarantino has crafted in this film. The film is impeccably crafted on a technical level that fully encompasses Tarantino’s vision.
Despite its grand scope, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a relatively simple film, it treats its characters intimately and isn’t trying to be anything grander than a film that is related to the Manson murders. Unlike Tarintino’s previous dives, like into slavery or Nazism, this film isn’t too concerned with driving home any larger story twists, bar one. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has goofy characters, heinous characters, and angelic characters all throughout – providing audiences with a buffet of personalities to choose from. Tarintino’s skillful screenwriting shows its strengths here, as he takes another step towards his films being almost entirely dialogue focused, but most importantly, character focused – as they’re the true stars of any film. With complex characters and colourful pictures, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a story that I’d be happy to hear before bed every night.