‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ (2019) Spoiler Free Review

The 9th film from Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is exactly as you’d expect it to be. It’s long, deliberately shot with dialogue and a soundtrack to match and has all around great cast chemistry. Seeing it on the big screen in 70mm at the Music Box Theater in Chicago was quite a sight. The film looks gorgeous and I recommend you see it that way if you can.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are superbly cast as Rick Dalton, an actor in early-midlife crisis due to his television career hitting a wall and Cliff Booth, his stuntman turned gopher with an interesting past. These very well may be two of their best roles in a long run of great roles throughout their careers. And that is saying a lot.

Tarantino‘s love letter to Hollywood in the 60s does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of an era long gone. He blends together a fictional tale with real life events for something that is truly spectacular. The one good thing about Los Angeles is that since it is the home of the U.S. film industry, it has stayed somewhat timeless. It has a look and feel to it that practically makes it another character in the movie, similarly to how New York City was in the 70s and early 80s. There are a few locations that really stand out as time capsules throughout the film. As always there are the old back lots of movie studios that generally seem extra fake when seen in other movies and shows, but amazingly not here. And then Tarantino terrifically captures the hedonistic celebrities of the Playboy Mansion days of old as well as the “old Western town” of Spahn Movie Ranch, notorious for being the primary residence of The Manson Family.

Margot Robbie does a fine job portraying movie starlet Sharon Tate happily oblivious to her fate. If you don’t know her story (as did someone near me at the screening) read up on it. She spends her days hanging with good friend Jay Sebring, running daily errands and seeing her films in nearby theaters and her nights partying with other celebs with her director husband Roman Polanski, whom she met while filming his movie The Fearless Vampire Killers. 

If anything can be said negatively about the film, it is that it does feel a little long in parts. Clocking in at 161 minutes, Tarantino spends most of that time intertwining the stories of our main characters, but almost lingering a little too long on the character that is Hollywood. I get what he was going for but honestly I could have had 20 minutes taken out and been totally fine. However, one of the great things about any Quentin Tarantino film is his cameos. This movie is riddled with them, from Hollywood deal-maker (Al Pacino), stunt coordinator (Kurt Russell), Sherriff on the fictional show Bounty Law (Michael Madsen), TV cowboy (Luke Perry), Manson girls (Dakota Fanning, Maya Hawke) and blink and you’ll miss him Samuel L. Jackson along with many others.

The Manson story is ripe for Tarantino to put his own spin on. It is an era for him to litter with pop culture references, violence and its location fully allows him to homage his heart away to Hollywood days gone by and everything that he grew up on, making him the filmmaker he is today. Run, don’t walk to see (what is supposed to be) the penultimate film by Quentin Tarantino.

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Author: K. Alvarez

A king without a throne.