Sunday, 25 August 2019

Film Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie star in Quentin Tarantino's sprawling throwback to the Swinging Sixties, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Los Angeles, 1969. Hollywood is in the midst of change, and swept up in this current of change is ageing Western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Once upon a time, Dalton was the handsome leading man in popular serials like Bounty Law. Now, with long-time stuntman and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) by his side, Rick scavenges for bit parts in episodes of crime shows and soon-forgotten pilots.

Every dog has his day, and Rick has been supplanted by handsome new filmmakers and stars like Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (RafaƂ Zawierucha), who just so happen to live right next door to Rick in the Hollywood Hills. As the story of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood slowly unfolds, Rick, Cliff and Sharon's fates are slowly intertwined with that of the sinister Manson Family, a crazed hippie cult who live on a deserted ranch previously used as a setting for Westerns.

Every new film from Quentin Tarantino is cause for celebration, but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels especially special. It's Tarantino – who has previously explored crime films, slasher horror, Westerns and Hong Kong martial arts movies – turning his gaze inward more so than ever before, by making a movie about the movies. For a filmmaker whose modus operandi is so closely intertwined with the DNA of filmmaking, it seemed like only a matter of time – and it was worth the wait.

As its title suggests, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a dreamy fairytale that pays homage to a bygone era. It's QT tipping his hat to the films he grew up with, the stars he looked up to and the industry he wishes was still in operation today. It's a gleeful, sprawling, rose-tinted fable that is telling two stories in tandem; one about Rick and Cliff's bromance amidst a changing industry and a second about how the events of August 9, 1969 were a watershed moment in our shared history.

But, just like with Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino posits himself as a storyteller first and a historian second. Rather than using his movie to merely recount history, Tarantino is once again remixing history and reforging myth into a movie.

DiCaprio and Pitt are perfectly cast as the two ageing stars who came of age during a different era; after all, aren't they currently staring down the barrel of the same gun? DiCaprio plays Dalton – a pathetic drunk who yearns to return to the A-list – totally straight. He's all ego and absolutely oblivious to it. Meanwhile, Pitt bestows Booth with a cool calm that hides his dark side. Their dynamic sits at the centre of this film, and both give note-perfect performances.

Rather than a gratuitous cameo coasting along on unspeakable tragedy, the inclusion of Tate is instead a wistful portrait of a talented icon taken from this world too soon. Floating through the film like an ethereal projection, an angelic Robbie looks right at home in Tate's knee-high boots as she strolls through downtown Hollywood, shimmies on the Playboy Mansion's dancefloor or speeds down the freeway without a care in the world. One scene where Tate visits to a theatre playing her own film The Wrecking Crew is simple but oh so effective – a charming presence content to just let life take her wherever it needs to go.

Tarantino has slavishly recreated 1969 here, from the fashion and the cars down to the tunes blaring from the omnipresent car stereos. Radio soundbites and adverts from the era waft through the air as Pitt speeds down the freeway, his hair floating in the breeze and his muscled arm hanging from the window; how this ties into the plot or the themes might be unclear in the moment, but ultimately it doesn't matter – it's just fun to hang out with these characters in this setting.

After The Hateful Eight drew criticism for its bitter or nihilist mood, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood lands at the other end of the spectrum. It's sweet, wistful, nostalgic and almost dreamlike. If Tarantino stays true to his word and if this is to be his penultimate film, it does feel like a fitting 'beginning of the end'.

The Verdict: 10/10

Back and better than ever...? Quite possibly. Tarantino, DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie sharing the silver screen is the stuff dreams are made of. A rare beast that lives up to its blockbuster billing, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is worth seeing on the biggest screen possible.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is in cinemas across Australia now.

1 comment:

  1. Is there any chance of a Director's Cut in the future, with outtakes restored??



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