Esteemed director Quentin Tarantino is back with his 9th film, counting Kill Bill as one film, to hit the big screen since he burst onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs in 1992. I have never truly understood Tarantino or the way he does movies. In fact, some of his most popular movies are titles that I just flat out don’t like at all (e.g. Pulp Fiction), but I keep coming back again and again in hopes that maybe the next one will be different. I had a good time with Django Unchained and was optimistic that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was going to be another enjoyable film along those lines. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Forget Brangelina, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are Hollywood’s newest power couple. DiCaprio plays former TV Rick Dalton, who is in the midst of the decline of his career. He is primarily only getting by with guest spots on other TV shows and he is having a hard time coping with the fact that he might not be a household name anymore. His former stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth, played by Pitt, drives him around town and fixes things in his house.
DiCaprio definitely has the beefier role in this film and I really enjoyed watching his inner struggle as a descending actor. He has some tough moments in anguish and a couple moments of triumph. I think Leo does a great job with all of it in what is definitely the most well-rounded acting performance in the movie. Pitt, however, pretty much just plays himself the whole time. The Brad Pitt cool factor is turned up to the maximum intensity and it is also quite enjoyable, though not as impressive of an acting performance.
Margot Robbie is also in this film but she doesn’t really do anything. While having probably the third most on-screen time, I don’t think she has a single important line in the entire film. Don’t get me wrong, I think Margot Robbie is probably one of the more beautiful and talented actresses in Hollywood, but her part in this movie is simply to look like Sharon Tate. Austin Butler probably has the most substantial part of the other supporting actors as Tex Watson.
Re-writing the Manson Madness
Before the movie started I was let in on the fact that this movie takes place during 1969 during the Manson murders. I used to consider myself pretty uneducated on what exactly happened during this time and who the Manson family was, but after the movie…….I was equally as uneducated. I didn’t really understand that the last act of the movie was in-fact portraying a specific night in Hollywood history that Tarantino re-wrote entirely to be much more satisfying and light-hearted than the real-life events. It wasn’t until I got home that I fell down a rabbit hole that is also known as the Manson Family Wikipedia page. After spending about two hours reading about the Manson Family and the ensuing trial (and watching the South Park episode on him), the movie makes quite a bit more sense now.
Speaking of the last act, I was just beginning to think that the movie was missing some of Tarantino’s usual antics, then the last act started. With that came a bombardment of bloody and violence that concluded with the discharging of a flamethrower. Let’s just say it isn’t a Tarantino movie if I never have the thought “What the heck is happening?” at some point during the movie.
The Best Yet from Tarantino?
While I may not be the best source for opinions on Tarantino movies, I do think Once Upon a Time in Hollywood might just be my favorite of his work to this point. I think the main reason that I enjoyed this movie is that it didn’t really feel like a Tarantino film until the last act. However, there are still some strange sequences that don’t make a lot of sense. For example, Kurt Russell’s character brings up the notion that Cliff killed his wife and got away with it. We don’t really know if that is true or it isn’t but after teasing a flashback that didn’t actually reveal the answer, the question isn’t addressed for the remainder of the movie. Seems like a pretty big issue that would need to be answered, but not in a Tarantino film. Also, speaking of Kurt Russell, at some point towards the end he starts narrating. I don’t exactly know when or why, but he narrates about 20 minutes of the movie and then the narration is gone again.
I may never grow to consider myself a fan of the strange mind of Quentin Tarantino, but I have at least grown to tolerate and even enjoy some of his films. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a great film that puts us behind the scenes in Hollywood. There are a lot of strange scenes and a few uncomfortable ones, but the film is pretty funny overall. This is especially true of the last 20 minutes or so of the movie. The aforementioned scene with the flamethrower just about had me in tears laughing.