Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is the 9th film by Quentin Tarantino. It tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double/friend Cliff Booth as Rick tries to keep his career alive in the late 1960s era. Helmed by Brad Pitt and Leonardo Dicaprio, this film has an inordinate amount of potential but I couldn’t bring myself to like it. There were elements and characters that I liked, but on the whole I did not like this film. Perhaps this can be chalked up to a misunderstanding of the source material. Granted, I’m no expert on late 1960s Hollywood but I understood most of the references and homages, so I don’t think it is a lack of knowledge. I have loved every Tarantino film that I have seen thus far, and before this film came out I thought he was infallible as a director and as an artist.
The film is 2 hours 40 mins and boy does it show. I’m no stranger to long films and some of Tarantino’s previous works have been equally long but I never felt the time dragging on like I did in OUATIH. Pulp Fiction feels almost breezy in comparison, and when watching Once Upon A Time I found myself bored and restless on several occasions. The length of the film wouldn’t be so bad however, if not for the apparent lack of a plot. The film has no clear drive or plot point pushing it forward.
While the apparent focal point is Dicaprio’s Dalton trying to revive his career there is no clear way that he tries to do this. We do see him on set for a Western tv show but apart from that he has no clear goal and seems an altogether passive protagonist. This makes the story drag on at a snails pace.
The other plotline in this film is Pitt’s Booth and his increasingly frequent encounters with the Manson family. From the outset, it appears as though this film is going to heavily involve the Manson family cult and the seeds are there for an excellent story but this is shunned in favour of the meandering exploits of Dalton and Booth. That is, until the ending scene which, frankly, is amazing. The entire film has dragged on, up until the last 10 minutes. These last 10 minutes see the Manson cult go to kill actress Sharon Tate and her friends as they did in real life. In this depiction however, they break into Dalton’s house first wherein they get absolutely slaughtered by Booth and his dog before one of them gets torched by Dalton wielding a flamethrower. The scene is wonderful. It’s brutal. It’s gratuitous and excessive yet has a touch of artistic beauty. In a way, it’s textbook Tarantino. It falls flat though, when contextualised by the 2+ hours of aimless preamble before it. This scene is the pinnacle of the film’s love letter to the 1960s and also the hate mail to hippies.
VERDICT: The performances I cannot fault, Pitt, Dicaprio, Margot Robbie and all of the other actors who were superb. The soundtrack and score was also great and fit the tone of the era perfectly. The visuals were outstanding, the night shots in particular were beautiful. My only gripe with the film is the aimless, drifting nature of the plot. By the standards of other directors, this film would be exceptional but for Tarantino it is, frankly, subpar. This review has only mentioned a fraction of the film, and there is much more to be said about it, but overall I would give this film a 6/10 for technically being an excellent film lacking in a narrative capacity.
P.S. Tarantino stop with the feet. It made my skin crawl seeing all of the unwashed feet in this film. Would it kill you to write in some socks?