There is always such excitement and expectation when the words “The —- Film From Quentin Tarantino” appear on a trailer or poster months before the latest effort the acclaimed and controversial director descends onto the big 35mm/70mm screen. But he’s been away for a little while – almost four years have passed since 2015’s The Hateful Eight fizzled a little at the box office and Tarantino clashed with Disney over the Cinerama Dome cinema, a moment that was (and still is) very raw in the filmmaker’s mind.
Indeed, in some ways, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, while a flashback to Los Angeles in 1969, is something of a cautionary tale of Tarantino himself: with only one more film left on his reported 10-film career, will he soon feel like a “has been” like his lead character Rick Dalton? We doubt it, but it’s certainly something he seems to be thinking of…
The aforementioned Dalton (DiCaprio) is a star slowly slipping into the background after a career that had seemed promising: after starring in his own TV show, Bounty Law, he is finding work hard to come by – a bad guy casting here, a bloated cameo there – and, by extension, such a lull means even less work for Dalton’s stunt-double/assistant Cliff Booth (Pitt) other than washing Dalton’s car or fixing his TV.
Next door, however, at 10050 Cielo Drive, actress Sharon Tate (Robbie) is rising to prominence after her acclaimed turns in Valley of the Dolls and The Fearless Vampire Killers, and her latest, The Wrecking Crew alongside Dead Martin is earning her much praise. The world is her oyster it would seem and the next big star is being born. Success and failure, rise and decline, just another day in the glittering world of Hollywood.
What’s true immediately about Once Upon A Time… is that this is a shimmering, technicolour, sizzling homage to an era of both time and place have long gone but is never forgotten, particularly for Tarantino for this is somewhat autobiographical given that this was the era when his love affair with the city and the surroundings began. Indeed, the first hour or so of the movie is more tourist board video than film but such indulgences are allowed from a filmmaker who, as ever, sucks us in and never lets go.
His musically charged set-pieces are brilliantly choreographed as ever, the photography immaculate (Robert Richardson again showing he is a true cinematography master), his performers at the top of the game (Robbie luminous and radiant; the DiCaprio/Pitt friendship is one of the best you’ve ever seen; Olyphant, Pacino and Qualley brilliant support) but behind them is a narrative that feels, as many have suggested, his most mature outing yet which given the setting and the special place it holds, isn’t surprising. Does it need to be 2hr 45mins long? Probably not, but then who are we to complain when there is a trove of magnificence here.
How Tarantino interweaves the fiction with the real – in this case, the unfolding stories of Charles Manson and his family, and the subsequent murders that would occur – which had such an explosive effect in Inglorious Basterds (arguably his greatest achievement yet – don’t @ us), does the trick again but not quite how you may perceive it to be.
It’s already made a killing in the US, and rightly so, but the delayed UK release has been a little puzzling yet it’s worth every second you’ve had to wait. In years to come, many may see this as QT’s defining career moment and with only one film left to go (unless he changes his mind, we all hope), we can only hold our breath to see what comes next.
Scott J.Davis | ★★★★1/2
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Comedy, Drama | USA, 2019 | 18 | 14th August 2019 (UK) | Sony Pictures Releasing UK | Dir.Quentin Tarantino | Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley