01st Aug2019

‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Al Pacino, Nicholas Hammond | Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the 9th and reportedly penultimate film to be directed by Film Twitter icon and controversial filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Set within the midst of the bubbling Manson crowd and the backdrop of the Hollywood scene in 1969 – Tarantino’s latest stars the dynamic duo of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as fading actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth, as they both journey through the warpath of relevancy in an evolving era, bouncing from job to job with neighbour Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate a third party to the events that unfold throughout.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood┬áis unquestionably Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece in terms of filmmaking. It is a visual blast from start to finish. It is a delightful love letter to a period that evoked the best talent of filmmaking, and a free and easy way of living in the land of opportunity. Tarantino offers an extraordinary amount of detail and subversion in this world. The viewer will live and breathe every moment of a burning sun, or cigarette smoke that engulfs parties. The level of sentiment and love found in this craft alone is a genuinely excellent notion to apprehend and for every lover of film, specifically from this ere, will be left dazzled with the world that Tarantino has brought to life.

The performances from all of the cast are terrific if not all slightly underused. The leading performances of DiCaprio and Pitt are the standouts. They are the draw for audiences and therefore have the most screen time and developing of character. They equally hilarious and perfectly cast, yet their dynamic and partnership are even better. The humour and authentic back and forth are wonderfully crafted, and the dialogue by Tarantino seamless. Robbie, unfortunately, gets the least amount of screen time, and ultimately becomes surplus to the film’s plot aside from often enough random inclusions; however, all is revealed in the climax of the film, but more on that later.

Snippets of Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Kurt Russell, Damien Lewis and Mike Moh are included of popular industry types such as Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee, who would undoubtedly be around during this period. Strangely, even with their limited screen time, none of the performances feels as if they cheat the audience or feel unnatural to the events. If anything these elements incorporates a more captivating and immersive experience.

The pacing and editing from Fred Raskin are exceptional. For a film that has a running time of one hundred and sixty-one minutes, it goes by with a breeze, partly due to how immersive the experience is but even when the film smothers itself in self-indulgence everything on the screen is always exciting and vivid. The 1960′s fashion to the small, subtle elements of the production design from Barbara Ling and the equally as glorious cinematography from Robert Richardson elevate this picture from bloated vanity project to absorbing material.

However, even with all the positives that Tarantino’s feature brings, in usual style, more often than not, the controversy overtakes the picture. Thankfully, the much-reported skewing of Sharon Tate’s final hours is gladly avoided. It is not the travesty that viewers were led to believe. Regardless the film concludes with an insensitive and ignorant finale of which we all saw coming knowing the director’s work. The climax is a much-maligned conclusion that uses Tate and the Manson murders in a way that Tarantino can hide behind but still use it to his benefit. Much of this ignorance is hidden behind humour, and while it suits Tarantino’s efforts, it does not dilute how ignorant and insensitive the end result actually is.

Tarantino’s usage of the Sharon Tate character, of whom plays a third party, is the clearest of his exploitative tactics. Tate essentially spends 2/3 of the film in the background living her life with maybe around eight or nine minutes of screen time in a film that has a two hour and forty minutes run time. Tate as a character serves no purpose, and contextually if she is used to truly showcase the event as it occurs the inclusion does work with how it paints her as a wonderfully vibrant and elegant figure, but the final result undermines all of that and uses her as a plot device so Tarantino can indulge in his fantasy. With how the feature unfolds, it is clear that the character of Tate is not needed at all. Expositional dialogue or throw away comments could easily allude to her, and the absence of her character would undoubtedly add to the tension of the film, but alas Tarantino cant restraint himself and indulges in his hypothesis.

The moral compasses of each character are an intriguing element. Lindsay Remain at Nerdist wrote a spectacular article that surrounds a pivotal character moment of Cliff Booth and dives deep into the material and its possible intentions, however, there is not enough of this type of material involved as found in Tarantino’s better and more provocative work. Thankfully, the infamous Tarantino debacle of the N-word is not found, and the film is far better without its explosive inclusion. That being said theirs one character who is a minority so its all the more possible that it is no restraint from the writer-director, more so no real reason to include it.

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