A beautifully rendered 1969 Los Angeles, and peak Leo… and not much else.
IMDB Synopsis: A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.
Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood, the ninth and penultimate film from legendary director Quentin Tarantino, is a visual delight. The director has painstakingly recreated 1969 Los Angeles (more specifically, Hollywood), and the film greedily meanders (for 161 minutes!) through it as it tracks multiple storylines that are on a crash course to a very Tarantino-ending. Very beautiful, very talented actors play very convincing characters as they operate amongst the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the Manson murders. Unfortunately, for me, the movie doesn’t quite live up to the sum of its parts.
The film follows the life and times of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a washed up TV actor, and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Booth’s stunt double/driver/fixer with his own dark past. The duo show genuine chemistry while driving around LA from meetings to movie sets to Rick’s house in the hills. It’s in these hills where we meet the other main characters, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). The wrinkle is that the former twosome of Rick and Cliff are fictional, the latter duo of Tate and Sebring, are very much based on real people, both of whom were gruesome victims of the Manson cult.
Most of the movie is spent… I don’t know, showing us insight into these character’s everyday lives, with a few vignettes into their pasts. There’s a lot to like, and some that doesn’t work but it all falls flat when pieced together. There’s a very good scene involving Rick on a movie set that’s a love letter to acting. There’s a very bad scene involving Cliff and a fictional Bruce Lee. There’s a great scene of Sharon Tate watching herself at a matinee, which again is juxtaposed by too many out of place fetish-y shots of her feet. The movie spends its time in this formula: Great performance for a great scene that doesn’t add up at the end.
As the film crawls its way to the finish, you can’t help but notice the care and craft that went into making it. It’s shot wonderfully, scored nicely, all the performances—big and small—are top notch (special shout outs to Margaret Qualley and Julia Butters). Without giving away the ending, Tarantino once again uses revisionist history (Inglorious Basterds) to crowd-pleasing effect. I just wish the ending paid off the rest of the movie.
Highlights: When Pussycat (Qualley) brings Cliff Booth to Spahn Ranch… it’s a chef’s kiss of a standalone scene. The aforementioned Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate watching her own movie is a sublime piece of filmmaking.
MVP: Leonardo DiCaprio. The rage, insecurity, overconfidence and ham that he brings to Rick Dalton is a work of art.
Should you see it: Of course. It’s a beautiful piece of filmmaking. It didn’t quite add up for me, but the parts are mostly pretty great on their own. 7/10.
Studio: Sony/Columbia // Original release date: July 26, 2019