Movie Review: ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’

With the release of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” he’s cemented his status as the most innovative filmmaker in movie history. Films like “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” pulled the proverbial strings of Hollywood’s elite and have since represented the director’s mantra as a director. He’s simply taken risks others aren’t willing to take. And for those that have, few have reached his level of marksmanship.

Tarantino’s unapologetically driven by his passion to make movies he enjoys, and ones that showcase his genius as an originalist. But unlike his past projects, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” is perhaps Tarantino’s most creatively tranquil. Even with the film centered on the Manson Family and murder of actress Sharon Tate, it’s considerably less subversive than his recent movies.

Rather than rely on intense action sequences and over-the-top bloodshed, it’s a genuine look into the late 1960s during the fleeting age of Hollywood’s leading man. Even deeper, as Tarantino has said, this picture is a “love letter to Hollywood,” a showing of his imagination and mastery as a storyteller.

Here’s a look at me and my friend Scott Staten’s movie review of Tarantino’s latest picture:

Writing/Direction:

Earl: Tarantino’s ability as a writer is used as a literary brush, as he’s focused on elegantly painting a grounded mythological world that surrounds his characters. In “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” he effectively mirrors the images of Los Angeles during the Manson Family era, while still placing his subjects under the scope of his reverie-like interpretation of the ‘60s. And paired with his brilliantly methodical direction, the film’s narrative is fluidly scattered. There’s really no direct plot to the story. Still, with Tarantino’s unhinged artistic vision, the film is smoothly etched out, allowing each of its characters — big or small — to take shape.

Scott: It’s worth noting that out of all the films released from major production companies this summer, Tarantino’s flick is the only one to be of an original story. Gone are the days of unique ideas and flooded in are those of superheroes and sequels. Tarantino’s quirky genius is one of the few unique voices respected enough in Hollywood to remain standing in the unilateral times.

Once Upon a Time is reminiscent of all of Tarantino’s films. The period piece embarks Jackie Brown, the mimicry of history resembles “Inglourious Basterds,” the story line is most like “Pulp Fiction,” the over-the-top violence similar to Django and the dialogue keenly centers on the “Hateful Eight.” Although his film doesn’t hit the high notes of each respective specialty, there are still scenes like Bruce Lee’s fight with Cliff Booth along with the wild ending that make the viewer feel like they’re opening the door to a controlled lunatics mind. Tarantino, for all his movies flaws, still tows the cocaine line between artistic tranquility and total chaos better than anyone in the history of Hollywood. 

Cinematography:

Earl: “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” is one of the more visually stunning of Tarantino’s films. Long-time collaborator Robert Richardson, who captured the photography of “The Hateful Eight” and “Kill Bill: Volume 2,” flawlessly curated the film’s 1969 backdrop. And outside the picture’s climactic end, the film could be described as a “hangout flick.” Often, viewers look at the back of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s heads as they watch themselves on TV or ride through the streets of Los Angeles’ Panorama City. Ultimately, making viewers feel like they’re alongside the two main characters’ exploits.

Scott: Tarantino is quoted as saying that Once Upon a Time was his, “love letter to Hollywood”. There’s no other element that represents his vision than the top-notch cinematography. There are shots where we look at Pitt from the passenger seat of a beautiful Cadillac and feel like his children driving down the Hollywood strip. We feel as if we’re growing up in Hollywood and for a brief moment we jump into our grandfather’s mythological times of heroes like Steve McQueen and Sharon Tate.

Once again, Tarantino proves to have an uncanny eye for dance in film. As major players of the Hollywood 60s are unveiled showing Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate and Emile Hirsch dancing their hearts away at the Playboy Mansion, we’re reminded of Travolta and Thurman’s iconic dance. Tarantino appears to be at his most mature in his filmmaking career and has finally tied together some of his favorite elements from all of his films. 

Performances:

Earl: The most prolific performance of the film is Pitt as stuntman, Cliff Booth. He absolutely killed every scene he was in. With this role, Pitt may have garnered potential sightings from the academy, a high-mark considering his counterpart’s decisive take on the struggles of a former Hollywood leading man. DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton evenly cradled the emotions of an actor whose stardom begins to rapidly fall in the mist of a transition in the industry. His performance further showcased his range as a master actor.

The entire film boasted stellar performances from much of the picture’s talented cast. Though, Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate left a lot to be desired. Her presence felt fairly underutilized, especially toward the middle portion of the film. But the most underrated performance came from Trudi, played by Julia Butters, who spearheaded some of the more compelling dialogue in the film.

Scott: Brad Pitt turned in one of the most exceptional performances of his career. Some things should be considered as obvious as the sky is blue and one of those is that Pitt is the best in the business at playing cool.  As we watch what seems to be an older Tyler Durden, Pitt carries every scene he’s in. Hawaiian shirts, fuck-off attitude and unleashed charisma charters his storyline to the very top as the ever consistent Leonardo DiCaprio happily plays sidekick. 

Most underrated, however, are the performances by Mike Moh as Bruce Lee, and Julia Butters as young Trudi. Both actors absolutely robbed their respective scenes. The fight scene between Pitt’s Booth and Moh’s Bruce Lee was the highest point of the film and Butters conversation with DiCaprio served as the thematic torch for Tarantino’s picture. In a picture dominated by two of the most beloved and prolific actors of all-time, it’s no short order to be two of the most memorable in the entire film.

Rating:

Earl: “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” may be a top three Tarantino project — I’m split between this and “Django Unchained.” If not for the emptied specter of events that hovered over much of the second act, it could be considered higher. The first and third acts are that much stronger, with them both containing some of the best written and well-acted scenes in the director’s filmography. And Tarantino paints a world truly reflective of a feral time in Los Angeles. The film is a dilated look into a real transitional period in Hollywood, firmly interwoven into an insanely wicked dramatization of the happenings in 1969. And in typical Tarantino fashion, it’s done with a fluid finish.  

9.1/10

Scott: One can’t help but compare Tarantino to his aging lead Rick Dalton. As Tarantino remains the last cowboy in the Wild West, opting to make original ideas and constantly test his own creativity, the world seems to be passing him by. In the age of digital streaming and regurgitation of similar material, Tarantino remains steadfast with his vision. Is his most recent film perfect? No. Is this among the top of his films? No. But Tarantino, like Dalton, is keeping his stubborn vision through changing times.

Applaud his sheer creativity, respect his genius, admire the unique performances and sit back and enjoy something truly one-of-a-kind. Tarantino is still Tarantino, and for fans of his singular genre, that’s all we need.

¾ Stars

Bio: Scott Staten is a fourth year Ohio University student, creative writer and podcast host aspiring to write screenplays and be the next Joe Rogan. To read more of Scott’s work, check out his website.

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