When a new Tarantino movie comes out, this is always a special occasion for movie fans to go out. It’s Christmas! While not necessarily the same kind of hype shared by geeks lined up in front of the theatre to see the most recent Marvel movie, but this is more of a ‘sophisticated’ hype. The great mastery of Tarantino for incredible scripts is now legendary; his unique vision is the only requirement to sell his movies to the public (more so than the cast, which is quite unique). Only a few filmmakers have that same aura surrounding their name, including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and perhaps Christopher Nolan. As he loves so much to promote it in his own marketing campaign, this is Quentin Tarantino’s 9th and probably most personal film. Having opened the latest Cannes Film Festival, Tarantino now presents a new updated cut of Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, an open love letter to the last years of the Golden Age of the Hollywood industry in the late 1960s.
Made of so many references to the cinema of the 60s (Sergio Leone, John Sturges, Dean Martin, Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen and many more), the film is more of ‘collage’ or pastiche of Tarantino’s Hollywood inspirations. Through the eyes of a falling leading man (DiCaprio) and his stuntman and man for hire (Pitt), Quentin shows the effect of the new era of cinema on the day-to-day lives of these artists. Certainly not his most thrilling and tension-building movie, discover Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood as Tarantino’s most mature film (meaning not too reliant on too much action, one-liners and violence).
We jump in the City of Angels of the year 1969. Hollywood is booming with new directors and new creative visions where powerful leading men are not the only required element to sell movie tickets. Fictive action movie star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, good energy) is one among this dying breed of stars. Having been the leading man in Westerns and action movies of his time, he is now hired for more secondary roles and antagonists. His good friend, stuntman and goffer Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, truly excellent) is pretty much in the same situation, as an ageing stuntman struggling to stay relevant. Thirdly, we also have a quick look into the world of real-life actress and model Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who has truly existed and was unfortunately murdered by the Charles Manson clan the same year, who himself is also referenced quite a few times throughout the film. Many other great actors also show up to play fictive or real-life actors, including the magnificent Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Damian Lewis (as Steve McQueen), Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant, Bruce Dern and Mike Moh (as Bruce Lee).
Simple enough, this is what Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is all about. Without a very clear narrative or story, the audience is invited to live the golden age of cinema by contemplating the daily lives of actors and stuntmen. That is why this movie is more of a scrapbook than an actual thrill; so a collection of cultural and meaningful scenes pasted in a huge nostalgic book. As he did in movies like Jackie Brown and Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino chose a more subtle approach that focuses on dialogues, character interactions, set design and style over violence and boyish thrills. Without a doubt, of all of his nine movies (well ten if you separate the two Kill Bill movies), his latest is his most mature and less violent.
As a Tarantino fan, even if the formula is quite different from the one of his biggest hits, I respect and admire the vision for this movie. Yes, this is a love letter to the old Hollywood days, there’s no denying it, but told with such precision and poetry that you find yourself in love as well. Only a few people truly know the history of Hollywood as well as Tarantino, so many cultural references might be a bit unfamiliar (it was for me at least). Oh, and what is a Tarantino movie without also an amazing soundtrack that honours the era it portrays? That is also the case here, as we rediscover the classic rock of the 1960s and 1970s with giants like Deep Purple, The Mamas and the Papas, Neil Diamond, Paul Revere and many more. To be honest, the song selection of OUATIH rivals the iconic one from Pulp Fiction!
The movie’s greatest moments were Brad Pitt’s scenes…oh hell yeah! Looking exactly like an ageing Robert Redford in his prime with his aviator sunglasses and perfect blond hair, his character is both funny and intriguing. He constantly finds himself into situations where he has to improvise and we love to see him ‘fight’ his way out. There’s an excellent part when he actually meets Bruce Lee on a film set and leaves you wanting for more. I won’t get into too many details, but the final act of the movie shows some kind of unexpected situation…and oh boy, is it worth the long wait. We know Tarantino to satisfy us with a remarkable thrilling final act, this one is no exception.
Considering the very slow pace and editing of Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, fans probably won’t rank it as one of Tarantino’s best movies. Many scenes consist of altered archival movie scenes to reference the actor’s work or also actors in front of the TV looking at their own work. Yeah…you know this feeling of a movie in a movie in a movie? That happens a few times, especially with DiCaprio’s character with a scene entirely about him playing his character on a Western movie set. After an almost three hour runtime, this movie might feel a bit long and dragging in a few scenes that we have a hard time figuring out the meaning. However, as the dialogue remains one of the key strengths of our director, this also gives the actors more room to play, improvise and master their lines…except maybe for Margot Robbie, who has only a very few lines, which is unfortunate. Overall, for what it’s worth, the script is great!
To sum it up, it will be a few years before Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is recognized as a classic. Quentin Tarantino chose to produce something a little different, which will definitely confuse fans at first. After a few screenings, I’m pretty sure the movie will grow on us. Its slow pace, long scenes and recurrent extensive dialogues gives us time to breathe, but also admire the truly awesome set design that captures the 1969 Hollywood. This is a movie for lovers of the art of cinema and nostalgia. If you recognize yourself, give it a try 🙂
After nine films, Tarantino confirmed in interviews that his next one will be his last one before he retires. What do you think his tenth film will be about? Rumour has it, he will jump into the Star Trek franchise. «Fire all phasers»!
MY OFFICIAL RANKING OF TARANTINO MOVIES:
1) Pulp Fiction (1994)
2) Inglourious Basterds (2009)
3) Django Unchained (2012)
4) Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)
5) Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood (2019)
6) Reservoir Dogs (1992)
7) Death Proof (2007)
8) The Hateful Eight (2015)
9) Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)
10) Jackie Brown (1997)
IF I HAD TO GIVE IT A GRADE: 7,8/10