Amazing performances can’t help save this long and ultimately pointless story of a bygone Hollywood era
The official IMDB premise says this about Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: “a faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.” What it should say is “Quentin Tarantino has once again made another long, self-indulgent movie about a period of movie-making history he’s obviously in love with, with a plot that has no real purpose other than to lead to a violent climax you are relieved to finally get to because it took two hours of nothing to get there.”
Tarantino’s latest promises a return to 1960s Hollywood, a time when Tinsel Town’s “old school” was giving way to a new generation of filmmakers and celebrities. With his usual coterie of famous faces and even a subplot revolving around the infamous Charles Manson (no doubt designed to elicit controversy) that never goes where you think it will – or should – it’s less a love letter to this bygone era than a vanity project with a budget. But at least it’s a well-made vanity project, and those famous faces onscreen sure know how to act. Still, I don’t know why Margot Robbie was in the film.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an emotional, alcoholic television actor who, after a meeting with Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino), realizes his career is on a downward spiral and is quickly becoming a has-been. He wishes he could be cast in movies being directed by his famous neighbor Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), but instead is only being offered roles in Italian spaghetti westerns, a limitation which insults his fragile ego.
Luckily for him, his very supportive friend, stunt double and employee Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is there to help push him forward and be there when he needs emotional support. Cliff is also having trouble finding work with inconvenient rumors about him murdering his wife impeding his work opportunities. Plus, he knows how to get into trouble with other actors such as Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), which doesn’t ingratiate him with studio execs.
While these two friends do their best at trying to land gigs in Hollywood, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) flies into town and, after watching a movie she stars in, appears to do nothing for the remainder of the film. Her sole purpose appears to be an excuse for cutaway scenes to a pretty lady that break up the Rick Dalton and Cliff Boon story arcs. I can’t for the life of me figure out why she’s there, except to possibly reinforce the Charles Manson storyline.
A hint of danger creeps into the life of Cliff Booth when he gives a ride to Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), who’s hitching a ride to get home. But she’s one of Charles Manson’s (Damon Herriman) girls so her “home” is no ordinary environment. After clashing with Mansons’s family Cliff Booth moves on with his life and… well nothing really comes of it. I’ll be honest, there’s a lot of pointless scenes. Lots of build up to nothing. Lots of encounters that amount to nothing. It’s just Rick Dalton on movie sets messing up lines and then finally we get to the point when some of Manson’s crazy crew attempt to kill people in the Hollywood hills. That’s it.
What really makes Once Upon A Time In Hollywood worth seeing are the outstanding performances from its amazing cast. As per every Tarantino movie it’s star-studded and eccentric, but leads Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are both incredible and make a fantastic onscreen duo. DiCaprio absolutely nails the emotionally wrought, drunken actor whose self esteem is on the brink of collapse. He’s fragile and unstable, yet still talented and wants to put on a show. His charisma and performance, both with and without Pitt, make up for the drawn out and pointless scenes he is in. I wouldn’t be surprised if his role in this film garnered him another acting award nomination.
Brad Pitt totally compliments DiCaprio as the tough, cool headed. “man’s man” best friend who may be down on his luck but he’s still pushing forward like everyone else. Just like DiCaprio, Pitt’s charisma, and near-perfect performance as a war veteran full of integrity and loyalty, helps make up for the slow-paced and pointless scenes he’s saddled with. Many of the film’s biggest highlights involve Pitt and I don’t think I’d have enjoyed the experience had he and DiCaprio not been cast. They are superb.
Margot Robbie also delivers a good performance as the most famous victim of the Manson murders, but unfortunately it all becomes for nothing when the credits roll and you realize she didn’t even need to be there. It’s the most bizarre role I’ve seen in ages. You’re waiting for her reason to be revealed and while there is a very tiny moment she’s involved with the Rick Dalton story arc, it didn’t warrant all the scenes you saw her in. But she was still great when on screen. All the actors delivered great performances.
Quentin Tarantino hasn’t made a good movie in ages. There I said it. Did you enjoy The Hateful Eight? I’m happy for you, but I think he’s extremely overrated. Only his early stuff is good and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood reinforces this opinion. This whole movie just felt like the self indulgent rantings of a “Hollywood Darling” writer/director who no longer feels like he needs to try. It’s so drawn out. You can remove large sections of this film and it wouldn’t make a difference to the plot. He’s not a good writer and his dialogue is generally rubbish.
What he has done exceptionally well is hired an amazing cast and gotten incredible performances from his actors. There are a lot of funny moments and the soundtrack is in true vintage Tarantino style – very 1960’s nostalgia paying homage to the era. He – or his team – has done a fantastic job of recreating Los Angeles in 1969 and you really feel like you’ve transported to another time. The costumes, props and sets look amazing.
As if you couldn’t tell, I have mixed feelings about Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. On one hand, I was really blown away by the performances and amazed at how 1969 Los Angeles was meticulously recreated. There are, admittedly, some very funny moments and the climax had the crowd in my cinema cheering. On the other, I found myself bored and fidgety due to the meandering story and unnecessarily long runtime. It made me rethink whether the crowd-pleasing conclusion was only good because of how exhausted I’d been for the hour leading up to it. It takes a lot to make a movie with Charles Manson and Bruce Lee this dull, but somehow Quentin Tarantino has done just that.
- MPAA Rating: R
- Release Date: 07/26/2019
- Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Originally published on July 29 2019 at https://www.popzara.com/movies/movie-reviews/once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-2019/