While not for everyone, Quentin Tarantino’s newest film could be his most Oscar-nominated film to date, fueled by marvelous performances, tasteful set pieces, and personal trademarks.
Since Quentin Tarantino’s first feature film, “Reservoir Dogs,” the acclaimed director has championed a unique writing and directorial style. The repetition of this approach and his many trademarks over his nine films since the 90’s make his movies easily recognizable to any Tarantino film-goer. With each film, Tarantino earns more adoration while expanding his fan base, and more respect from the industry and the A-list actors who want to appear in his movies.
With five career Oscar nominations and two career Oscar wins for best screenplay, Tarantino seeks to earn Oscar gold for best picture and best director for “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.”
But “Once Upon a Time” is far from Oscar bait. Tarantino’s goals for the film exceed any sort of award. The newest entry in Tarantino’s filmography may even be dare I say, his most unique and aware film to date. While many of his famous trademarks do appear in “Once Upon a Time,” there are few that are absent or take a backseat to other creative choices.
As Tarantino said in multiple TV interviews, this movie is a love letter or valentine to all that is Hollywood. Tarantino grew up in Los Angeles with fond memories of his dad driving him around in their Karmann-Ghia as Quentin observed and fell in love with his surroundings. The director’s attention to detail served him well. From old Hollywood movie theaters and drive-ins to restaurants and old retro neon signs, costumes and jewelry and even some use of black-and-white footage, Tarantino uses his mesmerizing set pieces to fully immerse the audience in 1969 Hollywood. Like many of his recent films, Once Upon a Time is quite long, maybe even a tad too long with a run-time of two hours and forty-one minutes. The run-time emphasizes the immersion into 1969 Hollywood and allows for Tarantino to masterfully craft every single shot with this intent.
The overall story and plot of this movie is largely what sets it apart from other Tarantino movies. In most Tarantino films the plot is easily identifiable and at the forefront of the film, despite the director’s nonlinear storytelling trademark, and is advanced through constant dialogue. Here, Tarantino uses his same, classic, nonlinear storytelling but to a lesser degree. The film bounces back for flashbacks of Booth and Dalton from time to time, but the movie is not overwhelmed with this style and by the third act it is moving full speed ahead in straight-forward fashion. The plot seems to take a backseat to the acting, character development, set pieces and world Tarantino has created here. This is a major reason why this movie is not for everyone.
The script in Once Upon a Time has brilliant moments but it does not constantly sizzle like it has in past Tarantino movies. Furthermore, many audience members such as myself may feel like they are always waiting for something to happen since we have come to expect several grand moments and twists in Tarantino movies before they end. But upon a second watch, the concerns over the light plot became less prominent in my mind and the appreciation for everything else that works in the movie became more apparent.
Though the movie does not feature Tarantino trademarks such as the honor among thieves theme, an appearance from Samuel L. Jackson, long vulgar exchanges (though there are one or two) big kahuna burgers, dance scenes or a Tarantino cameo, plenty of his most beloved trademarks are still prominent in the film.
There are two small, fun Tarantino trademarks in the film that serve as easter eggs for his biggest fans. Tarantino makes use of his fictional Red Apple cigarette brand first seen in “Pulp Fiction.” He also made sure he got his share of close-ups of feet in the movie as well, something that can be seen in just about every Tarantino flick. Anyone well-versed in Tarantino films will notice these stylistic choices upon viewing.
More importantly, Tarantino once again makes heavy use of pop-culture references, but this time many of the references are to his own films.
Lastly, just like in “Inglorious Bastards,” Tarantino rewrites history in a shocking and pleasant way. And, just when you think you are going to make it through a Tarantino movie without an extreme burst of violence, he surprises you.
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The ending of the film is arguably the best part and no matter how you feel about the movie up until that point, it is worth the wait. Everything in the final twenty minutes works to near perfection with classic Tarantino dark comedy at the forefront of it all.
The film has no shortage of celebrities as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt lead the all-star cast as two fictional characters alongside Margot Robbie’s depiction of the late Hollywood star, Sharon Tate.
In his first role since his Oscar-winning turn as Hugh Glass in “The Revenant” (2015), DiCaprio plays the role of Rick Dalton, a once famous TV star struggling to make his way into movies during a transitional period in Hollywood. Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, Rick’s long time stunt-double and right-hand man. Cliff does just about everything for Rick from driving him around to fixing his TV satellite to drinking with him.
While DiCaprio employs some fine nuances for his performance, such as a nervous stutter and spurts of coughing attacks from time to time, Brad Pitt plays a quiet, cool and reserved man with a knack for getting into trouble. Both Pitt and DiCaprio deliver iconic performances while maintaining innate chemistry with one another. Though seemingly aimless at times it is an absolute joy riding around with Booth and Dalton through the film as they embark on an odyssey through Hollywood trying to make a name for themselves. Though both characters make us laugh, DiCaprio’s Dalton also comes across as relatable and human as a self-doubting alcoholic on the brink of a breakdown. While stoic and subtle, Pitt’s Booth is a bit of a mystery, one that the audience becomes invested in solving as there are clearly many admirable qualities as well as many flaws with Cliff.
Some audience members may criticize Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate for a lack of purpose in the film. Often seen dancing in fun outfits and living glamorously without many lines in the movie, some may think it’s a superficial role without substance and depth. The goal with Robbie’s Tate, however, is to allow an audience who never saw or knew Tate to spend time with her. It’s a sneak peek into the late actress’ young life as Robbie depicts Tate’s generosity, fun-loving spirit and excitement for her career to take off. Robbie is yet another fun watch in this star-studded film.
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The movie features small side roles from famous actors such as Al Pacino, Damian Lewis, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Emilie Hirsch, Bruce Dern and the late Luke Perry. The film also features a plethora of young upcoming stars such as Margret Qualley, Austin Butler, Maya Hawke and Sydney Sweeney.
“Once Upon a Time” is currently Tarantino’s most critically acclaimed film since “Pulp Fiction” with a Metascore of 83. The movie also has an 8.1 on IMDb and an audience score on Rotten Tomatoes of 70 percent.
If you allow yourself to sit back and strap in while Tarantino steers the wheel wherever he pleases, you may enjoy the weird, funky, bumpy ride that is “Once Upon a Time.” Whether you are a film snob, a fan of Hollywood and the film industry, a Tarantino enthusiast or just a fan of superb acting, this is likely a movie for you.