Film Review: Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood

Written By: Riyan Bajric

Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is one thing and one thing only; Quentin Tarantino’s beautifully crafted dreamy love letter to cinema!

With his newest feature, the current master of cinema’s vision reminds us why movies are cool again. For the first time, in a long time, there’s a film that begs to be seen, not in the comfort of your own home, not on your Netflix cue on an airplane, but in front of a silver screen, with an audience and you damn right…some popcorn. Once Upon A Time is less a film and more an experience; one where the bustling hot summer days are corrected by the high intensity air conditioning of the multiplexes; one where the theatres are a safe haven for summer love and first kisses, an experience where going to the movies is as magical as popping your cherry. That’s what a Tarantino film is like; just like when I first went to go see his Grindhouse experience for the first time, Tarantino is a visionary old soul, hell bent on sharing his memorable cinematic experiences of his past, with us today. 

If you are a cinephile and don’t know about Quentin Tarantino’s work, most, if not all people will tell you that you should just quit now, but I digress. Tarantino worked at a blockbuster in Hollywood, California in his early years, consuming as much cinema as possible. One of his most revered quotes to date about film is his famous line that  “When people asked me if I went to film school I tell them no. I went to films”. Funny enough, this quote captures the essence of Tarantino and his canon; an individual who entered the world of cinema out of the sheer love of watching films, just like myself.

As an artist myself and lover of film, I never went to film school also. Hopefully, as someone who would eventually love to make their own films one day, I feel that this is one of the many reasons why I admire, as well as, so heavily identify with Tarantino. I also learned about films by watching them. Just like myself, the influence in Tarantino films is wide ranging. His largest inspirations draws from the New Wave Gangster pictures of France, crafted by the likes of Jean Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. All of the names listed are absolute giants in celluloid and contributed in my opinion the most to modern cinema that features, as Godard would say, “A girl and a gun”. According to Godard, that is pretty much all that is necessary to making a good motion picture. Other notable Influences on Tarantino would be essentially any film from the 1970’s because that is the era when he began to understand and study cinema, an era of films by Don Siegel, Sergio Leone and George Roy Hill.

Yet while many are quick to label QT as a scam artist and artistic thief, I feel like it is my duty to rectify that notion. Before continuing on, it has to be said that art copies art, inspiration inspires and according to Mark Twain, there is no such thing as originality, only levels of authenticity. Therefore, it is my extreme pleasure to introduce and name QT a master of authenticity for his cinema. Just like when Sergio Leone remade a Kurosawa picture and developed it into the Dollars trilogy, or when Christopher Nolan gave his interpretation of the Dark Knight recently, or when Martin Scorsese won his first Oscar for remaking a Japanese film and later naming it The Departed, art is not our subject, WE are its subject. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is the iconic director’s masterful indulgence in everything that he loves about movies and everything we should love, too! 

Aside from Taratino, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood isn’t just one man’s magnum opus, but a collection of so many talented artists, starting with its cast. The film opens with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt going for a cruise to a watering hole. Dicaprio stars as Rick Dalton, a good ole’ boy from Missouri who drinks for hydration and smokes for oxygen. Once the leading man in television and film, appearing in western serials, one aptly titled Bounty Law, Dalton is on the tail end of his acting career. The Midwestern-American cowboy style Dalton knew all too well, is being suffocated and changed, no thanks to the foreign influenced, free-loving hippie movement. While DiCaprio’s Dalton emits a certain swagger that charms many, the audience comes to realize that this ‘swagger’ is less a personality trait and more a clearly stubborn, unchangeable style and resilience to the conforming of the times around him. According to Rick, Rick Dalton is still big; it’s the pictures that just got small. While it may be hard to argue this notion, DiCaprio’s riotous as the comedic force of the film. Blending well with Tarantino’s signature writing style for a second time, DiCaprio’s Dalton stutters, stammers and then collectively pulls himself together in front of a camera. DiCaprio shows vulnerability constantly through induced breakdowns which is such a breath of fresh air from the usual leading roles we have seen DiCaprio play, yet also portrays the perfectly balanced and well-to-do movie star, we have come to expect from the actor, and all his character thus far.

Yet, as good as DiCaprio is, the clear cut favourite of Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is easily the most underrated actor work today…and that’s Brad Pitt. Pitt plays Cliff Booth, Dalton’s best friend, stunt double and, essentially, life coach. Keeping Rick on an even keel on the daily, Cliff also serves as Rick’s driver thanks to many of Rick’s drunken nights that end at the butt end of a street lamp. Booth opposite to Dalton emits something Dalton never could, and that’s an unaccepting Hollywood confidence. You know that confidence where “you’re a movie star but don’t want to be a movie star, but no matter what you do to deny it, you’re still a movie star” type swag? The type of swag where you kick the shit out of Bruce Lee and live to tell the tale? Yea, that’s Cliff Booth. Booth’s swagger is a type of cool that cannot be tampered with or broken; essentially playing the type of friend that any person and everybody would want to have. Yet, the contrasts between the two can’t be any more cinematically indulgent. In one of the best and most gratifying scenes in the film, is seeing the contrast of living between the two pals. Dalton, who lives in the Hollywood Hills, in a beautiful mansion, with a pool and famous neighbours in a well to do neighbourhood is pitted against Booth’s lifestyle, a lifestyle that involves living inside of a Drive-in trailer, having an adorable yet deadly dog, and wearing a Hawaiian shirt as if its the most iconic costume design of 2019.

While Booth and Dalton are both a duo one may soon not forget, Tarantino was quick to point out that Pitt and DiCaprio were going to be a duo similar to the likes of Robert Redford and Paul Newman, who were ironically dominating cinema around the time that Hollywood takes place. Thanks to the release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the late 60’s and The Sting released in the early 70’s, it was no doubt that the two were a match made in heaven. Yet, while this was a self-proclaimed statement made by Tarantino himself, perhaps just as a form of publicity for the film, or just pure Tarantino bravado behaviour, its hard to disagree with his statement at all. Pitt and DiCaprio are a cinematic dream team!

Yet, despite all its male glory, the true hero of Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is Sharon Tate played elegantly Margot Robbie.

While many casual moviegoers may go into Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood without knowing much about the history of Hollywood, Sharon Tate or the Manson family murders, they may come out quite upset, disappointed or underwhelmed with the film. Aside from the fact that first half of the film is basically an elaborate introduction to all the characters, Tarantino takes his time with the process obviously dragging it out for the sheer pleasure of it, a la Once Upon a Time in the West by the masterful Sergio Leone. Yet, his story is glued and always will be linked to Sharon Tate, the late actress who faced an unfortunate, real world fate early on in her life. Yet, despite all this tragedy and grief, Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood may easily be recognized as a love letter to cinema, but deep down, the film is a love letter to a lost star who never really was given her opportunity to share her true potential, and left the world much too early. The Valley of the Dolls actress was a clear inspiration to the auteur, and it is no doubt that, this one was clearly for her.

Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood continues the trend of exercising the idea that, this is Tarantino’s world, and we are all just living in it. Constant pushing the boundaries of the medium, and rigorously pushing the limits of reality, truth with fact or fiction, grit and pulp, Tarantino creates his own elaborate world with whomever he chooses, however he fashions it to be. Luckily for us audience members, we are able to take a glimpse of some amazing performances, even if it is for mere second, of actors we love and appreciate regularly. Like any good Tarantino film, the likes of new faces and familiar ones flood the screen, including Al Pacino, playing Marvin Schwarzs, a movie producer who sees Rick as a diamond in the industry who simply needs a good polish and update with the times. Marvin proposes that Rick goes to Italy to film a spaghetti western, paralleling the real life history of Hollywood at the time with Clint Eastwood shooting the Dollars films in Rome with Sergio Leone that catapulted Eastwood to stardom. Steve McQueen played by Damian Lewis, Emile Hirsh, Austin Butler, Clifton Collins Jr., Dakota Fanning, Tarantino alum Michael Madsen, Omar Doom, Rumer Willis, Scoot McNairy, Timothy Olyphant, and the last performance by the late Luke Perry are all performances to keep an eye for and ones that will easily put a smile on your face. All the while, Tarantino even gives us glimpses of his own version of Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) with great humour and adoration; these are all characters very sacred to Tarantino, without question, no matter how badass, evil or misunderstood they are.

Luckily for us, this is Tarantino’s ninth solo film, and with only one film said to be left for the cunning master of filmmaking, people are curious to see if the Tarantino-verse will finally make a full circle come his potential final feature film. Yet, no matter how many films are left for the master auteur, it seems to be clear that Tarantino is in position now, in his career, where he is basically able to do whatever he likes. Whether it be with tampering with one of the greatest films of the 1960s with The Great Escape, blurring the strokes of reality and making it seem like Rick Dalton was the heavy second favourite for the coveted part of Hilts “The Cooler Kid”, that eventually went to Steve McQueen, or his ability to show real life scenes of classic films, including The Wrecking Crew, showing his Tate watch herself on the screen, reacting simultaneously with an audience with every laugh, tear and smile. Whatever it is that he does, Tarantino gets an emotional reaction from his audience this time around, especially with Robbie’s scene in the theatre. Quite possibly, one of Tarantino’s most heart-wrenching and possibly most tender moment in the genre-defining filmmaker’s career, the scene is true admiration personified.

While cinephiles, hardcore Tarantino fans and people who just have way too much time on their hands may overanalyze and exhaustively explore Tarantino’s “Realer Than Real” Universe, against his “Movie Movie” Universe, which connects all of his films, their characters, real people and sometimes the fast food joints his characters may be eating at, the truth of the matter is, none of that stuff matters anymore. If Tarantino is in fact choosing to call it quits after his next feature film (mind you, Soderbergh said the same thing, yet we have another film of his opening up at TIFF in 2019), I can assure you that it won’t be his cinematic universes that will be discussed, but his keen passion, love and exploration of film, and everything he left us that was beautiful, ugly and hyper violent. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is Tarantino’s way of making all the movies he ever wanted to make as a kid, in little snippets that satisfies his own little heart, but also allows us fans to geek out on the potential possibilities of what it would be like to see the man extraordinaire make a Sergio Corbucci styled western; or an Italian spy thrillers that could be optionally titled Operazione Dyn-O-Mite! Imagine that!

Now, if you’re wondering why we really haven’t delved deep into the actual plot of this film, it’s because the plot is only secondary to all the other wonderful things Tarantino has done with this film, plus, the less you know going into this film, the better. What’s more is, discussing the plot of Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is also as discussing the plot to Howard Hawk’s Rio Bravo; sure there is obviously a type of lineage to keep the movie steaming along but that’s not what this is about. These classic movies are about hanging out with the unbelievably cool characters that these talented filmmakers have crafted; living in their moment of time, listening to their conversations and allowing ourselves, for those couple of hours, to get lost in the magic of moviemaking.

With Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, I had the extreme privilege of witnessing this picture in 70mm film stock, an experience that I can equally say, added to the movie going experience ten-fold. While Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, may be the best film I have seen in 2019 thus far, I can also say that, as audience members, we do not deserve this movie in today’s day and age. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is a goddamn masterpiece and a salute to a fistful of amazing cinema and a history of celluloid that one man loves, cherishes and wants to share with the world. While many may choose to watch this film and see a runtime of almost three hours, I can assure you, come time for the films ending, one realizes that three hours is not enough at all. Sure, this is just a little glimpse into the eyes and wonders of a little boy, geeking out and reliving this favourite childhood memories of film and television, and giving us a little taste of the magic of the movies that he remembers so vividly, but Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, is a dream film that a little boy ponce promised himself that he would make, and finally did. This is a miracle movie, a movie of promises, and a film that truly proves, dreams really do…come true!

Night Film Reviews: 10 Out Of 10!!!!!!

What did you think of Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood? Masterpiece of overrated Cannes fare? Who’s performance was your favourite? Does the film do Sharon Tate justice or injustice? Leave your golden voice and thoughts below. Make sure not to spoil the movie though! 

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