It’s the perfect team – Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie all directed underneath the LA umbrella of Quentin Tarantino’s vision of 1970s Hollywood. Is there a more stylistic and A-list cast? I doubt it, and yet here they all are for Tarantino’s 9th studio movie, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
All the usual characteristics of a Quentin Tarantino movie are present in his ninth outing as director. The script is on point whilst enveloped in that unique stylistic tone, bringing the story of actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) to the screen as vivid as a fading Hollywood star and his sidekick can be.
With his career on the skids and dropped to playing villains opposite up-and-comers quickly soaring the golden ladder of fame, Dalton struggles to find his place in an industry determined to leave him behind. And if Dalton is being left behind then Booth never boarded the Hollywood Express. Resorting to chauffeuring his career-ailing star around set after set, it is in the quieter more heavy-dialogue scenes where Tarantino seems most at his playful.
DiCaprio and Pitt both radiate movie star chemistry in every scene, their performances perfectly balance each other out. Pitt has the swagger and poise that expertly demonstrates Booth’s ability to adapt, DiCaprio brings something different.
Dalton is a man who can see his time running out, his former glowing star of fame and fortune suddenly fading. There is a poignancy in his realisation that his talents are fraying at the edges and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. When reading a Western novel about a horse breaker Dalton completely breaks down when recognising himself in the titular character. He’s no longer the best anymore and Dalton’s reaction is a rare moment of emotional heart from a filmmaker’s canon that is sometimes lacking.
Amongst the characters derided from Tarantino’s expert imagination are real-life Hollywood stars. Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is an actress on the brink of stardom, full of the starry-eyed promise of Hollywood fame and success. Bombing the streets of LA with her husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and living next door to Rick Dalton, much has been made of Tarantino’s interpretation of the tragic star, with heavy criticism on her lack of dialogue.
What is lacking in voice is expertly compensated by Robbie’s stellar performance. Every expression and movement speaks louder than any sentence she speaks, and she thoroughly succeeds in making Tate seem warm and charming. Her screen-time may be somewhat lacking to reach the iconic status achieved by many of Quentin’s other female characters, but what we get is a Sharon Tate worthy of the big screen.
Dalton, Booth and Tate – three separate storylines which help navigate the audience around the streets of 1970s LA, in cases lack the gripping plots which Tarantino has become a staple for. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood feels like a more mature Quentin, a director wishing to savour the meal and not gulp it down in one. With the framework of the script much looser, whereby some scenes land perfectly – an interaction between Booth and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) is wonderful – others sadly don’t.
The shifts in tone come thick and fast and as the plot naturally drives towards the climax, featuring the chilling Manson murders, Tarantino reminds you that this is his movie and your expectations are continually destroyed as the plot heads into a direction altogether unexpected. Ironically the finale asks a question which has faced Tarantino his entire career. Do movies invoke violence? His answer steers the movie into a whole new cataclysm of chaotic madness altogether.
Visually, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood electrifies the screen. From the costumes to the set design, no detail is missed, and it only elevates the movie to higher exceptional levels of brilliance. The cinematography captures LA in the vibrant 70s as you would expect – bright, colourful and psychedelic.
What becomes evident as the credits roll, is that Tarantino’s 9th movie feels his most personal, a letter to an era of Hollywood he perhaps wishes he could’ve experienced for himself. It is also reportedly his penultimate film, with him wishing to round of his directorial career at the magic ‘10’. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood feels just short of his curtain call, but when the time comes, it’s hard not to see that audiences will miss him, and his 9th movie suggest he’ll miss them too.