‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ film review
By Craig Allan, Contributor
For over 25 years, Quentin Tarantino has excited audiences with his style and inventiveness. With his gritty, clever, and unique style of filmmaking, Tarantino has smashed the mould of conventional cinema. Whether it is his non-linear masterpiece Pulp Fiction, or his bloody slave-era revenge Western Django Unchained, Tarantino has made films so well that in the years where he does have a movie to present, the entire industry takes notice. He continues that with his most recent film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (OUTIH).
Set in 1969, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth respectively. Dalton is a fading old Hollywood bad guy, who after years of being punched out in Westerns is coming to terms with the realization that his days in the Hollywood industry may be numbered. As Dalton frets with worry, Booth is completely unfazed by Dalton’s pessimism. Also in the film is Margot Robbie with the role of Sharon Tate. While Dalton concerns himself with the end of his career and Booth takes it easy, picking up a hippie girl (Margaret Qualley as “Pussycat”) and fixing Dalton’s antenna, Tate watches herself in The Wrecking Crew. Robbie’s role in the film may seem small and inconsequential but this is an intentional move.
This film follows both the party of Dalton and Booth, and the separate story of Tate not driving but gingerly walking to the climax of the movie. While it is difficult to talk about the movie without spoiling the dramatic ending, there is one scene that perfectly articulates what Tarantino is expecting from his audience. In the middle of the movie, after dropping off Dalton at his home, Booth returns home to his dog Brandy. He grabs some dog food to give to Brandy as she waits patiently on the couch. After opening the can Brandy whines, to which Booth warns that if she continues to whine, Booth will have to reluctantly throw the food out. Brandy must wait until Booth has made his dinner of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. He plops the dog food in the bowl. While he drains the pasta, he plops another helping of dog food in the bowl. After mixing in the cheese, he pours some kibble in the bowl. As Booth settles in with his pot of mac and cheese and a six pack, he gives the command that Brandy can now commence with eating. This is Tarantino’s subtle way of conveying what he is trying to do with this film. There may be some moments that lag or seem unimportant, but if you stick with it instead of giving in to your immediate desires you will be rewarded with a climactic scene that ranks among the best in Tarantino’s filmography.
This is a new era for Tarantino, since this is his first film separated from his long-time collaborators in The Weinstein Company after founder and CEO Harvey Weinstein was brought down due to sexual harassment and assault allegations. Now set up at Sony’s Columbia Pictures, this new era for Tarantino may very well be his last. During the press junkets for the film, Tarantino has hinted that OUTIH and another (possibly Star Trek) film may be the end of his filmmaking career; he has strongly indicated that he is looking to go out on top and focus on other entertainment mediums like plays in the future. If this is true, then OUTIH is a true showing of Tarantino’s advancement as a filmmaker. All the sets are real, the recording is actual film, and the film is shot with a caring eye and a strong sense of understanding. If Tarantino is setting himself up for a ride into the sunset, he is looking as high and mighty as ever with OUTIH.
When judging a Quentin Tarantino film, they are so well done and highly praised that you can only judge them based on how they stand up to other Tarantino films. With that in mind, due to its slower pace and more methodical storytelling, OUTIH may not reach the highs of Tarantino’s more well-known films like Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained. However, for those who admire Tarantino’s earlier work such as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will see a happy return to early Tarantino, with audiences getting the dog food and the kibble.