Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is a good — not great — movie. It isn’t Quentin Tarantino’s best film, but it’s still pretty good. There’s a reason so many actors continuously fight to work with QT, because he continually brings out the best in every one of them he chooses, despite the size of their roles. The enigmatic filmmaker had a lot to work with here and sometimes gets sidetracked when there’s too many shiny new toys to play with.
That’ll happen when you’ve got Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino and Timothy Olyphant in your cast, with Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley and Mike Moh fighting for screentime. Tarantino is known for bringing in well-known actors, maybe on the backside of their careers, to prominence, and here Kurt Russell and Bruce Dern have met those requirements well. But it’s the fact that QT has a base group of actors who he continually trusts with different roles in just about every movie he makes, with no role being too small. Here, that’s Michael Madsen and Tim Roth (whose scenes were later deleted). These two actors have been working with QT through thick and thin since Reservoir Dogs — which I still enjoy to this day — and more recently, Pitt and DiCaprio.
Speaking of actors, it’s sad that Luke Perry’s final role isn’t a large one and it was interesting seeing so many celebrity children in the hippie cult, including Maya Hawke, Harley Quinn Smith and Rumer Willis.
Once Upon a Time is great when there’s smaller moments between two characters, but bringing them all together isn’t as cohesive in this outing. It is a nostalgic throwback to the end of Hollywood’s Golden Era and Tarantino’s strong visual style makes this setting one where I’d love to live. In fact, it’s the best thing about this film. The whole thing is filmed as if it’s real life, but it’s really a meta look at life as a TV show, which presents some great metaphors. Los Angeles is the real star here, one which sadly doesn’t exist anymore, which brings us back to QT’s style.
If you’re a fan of Tarantino — and I am, ever since seeing Reservoir Dogs in a movie theater — you might recognize some elements the filmmaker has practically trademarked that appear in each of his films. His movies generally involve non-linear storylines. Incredible attention is paid to the tiniest of details. There’s gonna be lots of curse words, smart dialogue and plenty of pop-culture references used in his scripts. Oh, and so much violence. Iconic, incredible music is always played in the background, which is usually personally chosen by QT himself. Multiple characters are usually followed who eventually interact with each other by the film’s conclusion. The bad guys don’t generally win, but sometimes they do, and more recently, the films of QT exist in a separate, alternate universe, much like our own, but it’s basically historical fiction (think Inglorious Basterds and now, Hollywood).
Will Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood really be Tarantino’s penultimate movie? I hope not. QT has NEVER been a mainstream filmmaker, always creating movies his own way, with R ratings being the norm. While keeping the rating, Hollywood feels like QT’s first attempt to tone down his usual shtick in order to gain widespread appeal. It almost works.
There’s not a whole lot of smart dialogue — I really missed that. There’s wasted moments focusing too long at previous in-universe TV shows and movies that never fully serve any purpose other than to build character and eventually bloat the overall running time. There’s wasted characters with unresolved arcs. The movie centers around Leo and Pitt, with Robbie’s role of Sharon Tate being absolutely unnecessary in the overall storyline and it should have been totally removed — obviously the film would have needed another ending, entirely. Moh’s portrayal of Bruce Lee was also not needed in the storyline, only proving Pitt’s still got his wits and training, ultimately sparking a racial controversy. I didn’t see the political message that some did, but this was an homage to old-timey cinema and the welcoming of a new guard into the mix.
Once Upon a Time is almost a complete movie, but if you analyze the character arcs of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, they never really change by its conclusion, they simply find some fulfilling work overseas and then it’s over. This is a story of friendship. It’s nothing groundbreaking and I dare say it’s unconventional. The best thing is the scenery… the acting is pretty great and will most likely receive more noms as awards shows reach their nominations deadlines. With the passing of QT’s long-time editor not too long ago, the past couple of movies QT has made haven’t felt as sharp without her. This one could have definitely been tightened up and improved.
Quentin Tarantino’s movies can’t still be described as cult classics as his first couple of films were, but they seem to gain acceptance and validity as the years pass their release dates and they’re watched by the masses. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood will get better as people nostalgically look back onto this showbiz throwback.