Quentin Tarantino is, like it or not, among the most prestigious and singular voices in film today. With his 9th feature, he finds ways to extend and expand his voice, all while crafting a loving ode to the Hollywood that was and never will be again. In Once Upon A Time... in Hollywood, he has crafted his most earnest, reverential, and sincere film to date. It also might be his very best.
The best way to describe this film’s direction is “leisurely.” Tarantino takes his time establishing the world of Hollywood in 1969, with plenty of time spent in cars driving around the city and looking at old TV shows and movies. While it’s much more slice of life than anything he’s done previously, it’s also unmistakably Tarantino. Plenty of his quirkiness shines through in the way he unfolds this story, and it’s absolutely impossible to not get sucked in. This is Tarantino’s warmest film, and his direction helps it unfold as the greatest hangout session the Hollywood hills have ever seen.
The film follows washed-up TV Western actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they search for new purpose amid the shifting industry and landscape of Hollywood in 1969. Entering the mix is Dalton’s new next door neighbor, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the face of Hollywood’s new wave. The film explores the lives of all three characters over three different days, changing perspective and weaving a story that is ultimately less about the ending than the journey it takes to get there. The ending is massively satisfying, and this film’s plot is so full of character, humor, and heart, making it enjoyable and engrossing to watch minute to minute.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
In what should be a surprise to no one, the cast of this film is uniformly tremendous, with DiCaprio and Pitt giving some of their career best performances. In a film about stardom, it’s incredible that two of our last true stars can still absolutely disappear into roles. Likewise, Margot Robbie is absolutely magnetic and delightful as Sharon Tate. She imbues every bit of her character with a warmth and joy that was indicative of the bright-eyed youth that were taking Hollywood by storm. It’s a moving performance, and one that lingers in parts of the film that don’t even involve her. The supporting cast is also stacked, with extremely fun and memorable contributions from Al Pacino as Dalton’s new manager, Timothy Olyphant as a TV cowboy actor, Kurt Russell as a stunt supervisor for a TV show, Margaret Qualley as a member of Charles Manson’s “family,” and Bruce Dern as an elderly set owner. Everyone brings their A-game.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The soundtrack to this film is also masterfully curated. Much of the music in the film comes from record players or car stereos, and features a mix of classic rock ‘n roll, pop music, and era-specific radio ads. The soundtrack becomes its own character, giving the film a whole different dimension and adding weight and joy in equal turn to plenty of scenes.
The design of this film is sensational. At no point is there any doubt that this is the 1960’s, with authentic sets, outfits, and vehicles. All the little flourishes and details imbued in the film go a long way to immerse viewers in the world, and it works like a charm. There was clearly a great deal of love put into crafting this movie, and it absolutely shows.
Once Upon A Time... in Hollywood is an absolutely massive film, and it’s one that only could have been made by Quentin Tarantino. It’s clearly the work his entire career has been building up to, and one that feels like it was led by a very wise and assured director who has matured, and now looks back with reverence and nostalgia. The result is the year’s most complete film, featuring comedy, melancholy, and over-the-top violence in equal measure. Once Upon A Time... is, in short, the year’s most essential film, and undoubtedly its best.