Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Damon Herriman, Austin Butler, Emile Hirsch, Scoot McNairy, Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Nicholas Hammond, Spencer Garrett, Mike Moh, Lena Dunham, Damian Lewis, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Zoë Bell, James Marsden, Michael Madsen, James Remar, Brenda Vaccaro
Running Length: 159 minutes
Synopsis: A faded TV actor and his stunt double embark on an odyssey to make a name for themselves in the film industry during the Helter Skelter reign of terror in 1969 Los Angeles.
Review: It’s been ten years (in my opinion at least) since the last truly great Quentin Tarantino movie (Inglorious Basterds), but with Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, QT is once again back on top with an excellent piece of filmmaking, particularly so for anyone who considers themselves movie lovers. Given Tarantino’s encyclopedic knowledge and passion of film, it’s little wonder why Once Upon a Time feels so passionate and intimate – this is Tarantino’s love letter to old Hollywood, a sprawling, highly enjoyable cinematic experience that ranks amongst the best in 2019.
It’s hard to actually define Once Upon A Time, because it’s so many things all at the same time. Much of the film is structured like a road movie, following fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double cum driver Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) over a weekend in February 1969. There are however quite a number of diversions, the most important ones being two subplots that focuses on Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Cliff’s crossing of paths with the Manson family. For those who are unacquainted with the Manson family Tate murders, it will definitely serve you well to do a bit of reading up beforehand.
Both DiCaprio and Pitt are great in their roles as (essentially) losers, which is about as against type as possible for these two golden boys of Hollywood, but they are so eminently watchable that the at-times long and rambling nature of the film almost ceases to matter. I would say “almost”, because the film will wear thin the patience of any audience member that doesn’t appreciate the general lack of a narrative focus. However, there is usually enough going on at any one point in the movie, with a good number of comedic and surprising moments that it doesn’t ever feel like a slog. In fact, the film is easily one of the funniest this year, and while it defies easy categorization, it won’t be wrong to consider much of the two-plus hour movie to be a comedy. It also helps that the entire cast, from big star cameos to smaller bit roles, are consistently excellent and leave deep impressions regardless of the length of their presence in the film.
However, the true star of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino and his production crew. In an era where everything is digital, QT decided to shoot in film instead (sadly, Singapore will not be playing host to either the 35mm or 70mm film prints), and working with master cinematographer Robert Richardson and an excellent production design team, what unfolds onscreen is probably one of the most hyper-realistic depictions of 60’s Hollywood (apart from, of course, actual 60’s Hollywood). Attention has been lavished on every period detail, and the love that QT has for the era is clear and present in every frame.
We must end this review by touching on the final reel of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, even though it is something that’s best experienced without any prior spoilers. Suffice to say that it takes a lot to surprise a jaded cinemagoer like myself, but I was well and truly very (pleasantly) surprised by how the final act of the film unspooled. Kudos to Tarantino for having the audacity to execute such a bold denouement – I genuinely cannot think of any other director with both the vision and the ability to successfully pull it off, which pretty much explains why he obtained a six-minute standing ovation after the film’s premiere at Cannes earlier this year.
Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)