‘Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood’ Review: Quentin Tarantino Rewrites History in a Love Letter to a Bygone Era

Here’s our review of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film ‘Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood’ where the writer and director tackles a bygone era of cinema from the late 1960’s…

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

If there’s one thing you can say about Quentin Tarantino — he loves movies.

Growing up in a video store before turning his eye towards writing and directing his own films, Tarantino is the definition of a cinephile and if you’re not convinced just listen to any number of podcast appearances where he waxes poetic for hours about his favorite movies and movie stars.

Tarantino created his own sub-genre in cinema with his first few movies including ‘Reservoir Dogs’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and even ‘True Romance’, which he wrote but did not direct. These crime-noir features were thick with violence, snappy dialogue and the kinds of pieced together stories that didn’t make sense unless you stuck around until the very end.

From there Tarantino started making movies set in the genres he loved the most growing up including a pair of westerns (‘Django Unchained’ and ‘The Hateful Eight’), he tackled a kung-fu revenge fantasy (‘Kill Bill 1 & 2’) and he even managed to make a war movie with ‘Inglorious Basterds’.

Tarantino’s latest film — ‘Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood — might be his most ambitious movie yet because it doesn’t necessarily fit like a puzzle piece in any given category. In many ways this film is Tarantino reinventing himself again while dabbling in history by making a movie about the time he first fell in love with Hollywood.

One listen to those previously mentioned podcasts and you’ll hear Tarantino take a deep dive on everything from car chase movies to horror films to westerns but as much as he appreciates the classics from those eras, he seems to have a certain fondness for the films that have seemingly been forgotten by time. Of course, Tarantino has a passion for those movies that took home a ton of awards, but any time he’s given the chance to talk about the films he loves the most, his list is rarely decorated by Oscar winners.

Instead, Tarantino likes to put the spotlight on films that were once beloved but don’t seem to get talked about nearly as much these days. He likes to heap praise on actors and actresses who are no longer household names.

Understanding Tarantino’s passion for those kinds of movies will explain exactly what he’s trying to do with his latest film ‘Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood’.

Tarantino has written a love letter to a bygone era of cinema in Hollywood from the late 1960’s and the actors who were eventually forgotten. In many ways this movie is different from everything else Tarantino has ever produced while still managing to feel familiar. It’s  a rare feat for a writer and director to continuously create awe-inspiring material while constantly dipping his toes into new material.

That’s what makes ‘Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood” such an achievement because it’s Tarantino doing something he’s never done before yet still finding a way to do it right. It’s a compelling story filled with interesting characters and when it’s all said and done, you’ll leave the theater with a smile and perhaps a tear running down your face simultaneously.

With that said, let’s get to our full review for ‘Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood’…

PLOT

The year in 1969 and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is desperately trying to stay relevant.

It’s been a long time since Rick starred in a hit TV show called “Bounty Law”, which is where he became a household name. It was during that run when Rick met his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who stuck by him throughout his run on that series.

Sadly, Rick decided at the height of popularity of the show that he was ready to transcend television and become a movie star instead. So he bet on himself — and he lost badly.

Now Rick is relegated to guest appearances where he’s almost always cast as the bad guy, who is inevitably trounced by the hero in whatever show he’s starring in that week. When he meets with a new agent (played by Al Pacino), who wants to send him to Italy to star in spaghetti westerns, Rick is convinced that his career is nearly finished.

Rick is struggling to keep his head above water and it doesn’t help matters much that he lives next door to the hottest director in Hollywood — Roman Polanski and his new bride Sharon Tate.

Meanwhile, Cliff doesn’t seem to worry nearly as much about his standing despite the fact that he lives in a trailer behind a drive-in movie theater, his only other friend is his dog, and he’s not even getting much stunt work these days while trying to double Rick.

Somewhere along the way while Rick is working on his latest film, Cliff encounters a young hitchhiker named Pussycat, who asks for a ride to her commune home outside of Los Angeles. When Cliff arrives, he meets a strange cast of characters who all talk about the leader of the group — a man named Charlie.

Charlie is better known by his full name — Charles Manson.

Now as much as it’s been made that this film centers around the Manson family, that’s not really the case. The Manson family plays a part but the film centers primarily around Rick and Cliff and how they are navigating this transition in Hollywood where neither of them seems to have a place any longer.

ACTING, DIRECTING AND SCRIPT

The visuals in ‘Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood’ are stunning and it really feels like Tarantino has managed to bring the late 1960’s back to life in this film. The soundtrack is also outstanding but that’s come to be expected from just about every Tarantino project.

When it comes to the script for this film, Tarantino’s dialogue cuts like a knife but it’s more subdued than many of his other movies. There are moments throughout Tarantino’s library of films where you don’t even need the visuals because you could just sit back and listen to the actors and actresses saying his words. There are a few moments like that in this film as well but largely Tarantino is relying as much on the cinematography of this movie to draw you in as much as anything the actors are saying.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a ‘B’ level actor like nobody’s business in this movie but the real standout is definitely Brad Pitt. When it comes time to hand out some gold statues, Pitt will be somewhere near the top of every list in 2020.

Margot Robbie also deserves a nod for her portrayal of Sharon Tate, the waifish young actress who was butchered by the Manson family back in 1969. Robbie is already a starlet but she really dazzles in her work as Sharon Tate in this film.

The rest of the cast definitely measures up including some smile inducing cameo appearances including the late great Luke Perry in his final film role.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE MOVIE?

There aren’t many flaws with ‘Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood’ but it is a film that you might need to see twice to truly appreciate it. The reason for that deals with Tarantino basing his movie around a very real tragedy in American history. As soon as you meet Sharon Tate for the first time, a real sense of dread follows her around for so much of the movie.

That said, Tarantino loves to make tweaks and changes to the story we know so don’t let history get in the way of a good time at the movies.

FINAL VERDICT

When you go to see ‘Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood’,  you’ll be seeing a Quentin Tarantino movie but it’s unlike anything Tarantino as done before. The best way to describe this film is that Tarantino has made his most hopeful yet tragic movie in years. If you’re prepared for that, then the 2 hour and 45 minute run time will just wash over you as you sit back and enjoy it.

‘Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood’ gets 5 out of 5 on the Skolnick Scale.

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