It’s time to give DiCaprio another Oscar.
Quentin Tarantino loves his westerns. His past two movies have been from the same genre (2012’s Django Unchained and 2015’s The Hateful Eight), and while Once Upon Upon A Time In Hollywood has a lot of western elements, it is ultimately a love letter to the often-romanticised golden age of Hollywood.
The golden age of Hollywood (or classical Hollywood cinema) is usually regarded as occurring between the 1910s until the 1960s, the latter of which is when Tarantino’s latest movie takes place in. Does this movie live up to the reputation of being the acclaimed director’s penultimate movie in his long and illustrious career?
Hearkening to Old Hollywood
The best way to describe Once Upon A Time In Hollywood without spoiling anything is that it’s a comedy-drama crime period piece set in the hippy times of 1960s Hollywood. The most common complaint hoisted against this movie is that the nostalgic value of Hollywood’s golden age is lost on the younger generation, especially those whose earliest movie experiences date back only to the early 2000s.
I’m pretty much in the same boat (since I was born in the 90s) but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie’s deconstruction and depiction of golden age Hollywood tropes and tributes. I may not recognise more than half of the old actors and actresses brought back to life during their heydays, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this movie.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood reminds me of another movie that fondly depicts Hollywood’s golden age, 2016’s Hail, Caesar! by the Coen Brothers. That movie was set ten years earlier than Tarantino’s, but it explored many of the same subject matter.
Both movies are what I would call ‘movies about making movies’. Anyone with even the most basic understandings of how movies are made will be delighted to watch the inner workings of Hollywood (and the dark machinations within).
It’s clear from the masterful way that Tarantino builds this movie that the 2 hours and 45 minutes runtime felt like a breeze. The pacing, character moments (and development), and setting made me glued to the screen for the entire duration of the movie. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood made me yearn and pine for an era that doesn’t even hold much personal sentimental value.
All that being said, it would still be much preferable if you have at least know the gist of who Sharon Tate and the Manson family are before watching the movie.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood doesn’t hold your hand and walk you through the romanticised age it glorifies. Instead, it expects viewers to already know who these people are without spelling it out.
Brilliant Ensemble Cast
Where do I even start? Once Upon A Time In Hollywood features a bevvy of veteran award-winning actors of the highest calibre, but some get more substance to shine than others. The main highlight of this movie is, of course, the three leads (as evident on the official poster).
Leonardo DiCaprio delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as washed-out western cowboy actor Rick Dalton. In the movie, Dalton is a struggling TV actor who tried to transition into movies but failed and is now suffering from a crisis of sorts. His character symbolises the end of Hollywood’s golden age itself, as leading actors and actresses of that era were known to fizzle out as cinema entered a much different 1970s, with the rise of blockbusters.
Meanwhile, Brad Pitt brings out his usual devilishly charming self with Cliff Booth, who is Rick Dalton’s stunt double. Most of the hard-hitting and expertly-shot action scenes in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood relies on Pitt’s character, especially the now infamous sparring scene with Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee.
I didn’t find it particularly offensive, though I understand how it would be considered so by the late legend’s family and fans. In the movie, Booth is a former Green Beret and war veteran, so it’s not inconceivable for him to win in a fight even against the likes of Bruce Lee. In fact, the Booth-Lee fighting scene is important to establish something that has significant payoff during the climax of the movie.
Meanwhile, there’s also Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate (who is the only one out of three lead protagonists to be based on a real-life person). She is wonderful as the cheerful and optimistic Tate, but unfortunately, the script probably brought her down. Many questioned why Robbie’s role seems so diminished compared to DiCaprio’s or Pitt’s, and I can corroborate that. It felt like she was there mostly for eye-candy purposes, which is a waste of her talents.
A lot of actors appear in supporting guest roles and cameos. The most notable performances would have to be Dakota Fanning’s Squeaky (a Manson family member), the late Luke Perry’s Wayne Maunder (based a real-life actor) in what was his last movie role before his untimely tragic death, and the young but brilliant Julia Butters’ Trudi Fraser (another real-life actress).
Every Tarantino movie has featured a cameo by the director himself at some point in the movie (most of which are unintentionally funny and cringe-inducing), but stay behind for the post-credits scene Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and you might spot him (or not).
One Of Tarantino’s Finest
It’s not an easy task to review a Tarantino movie, proving that every review is based on both abstract subjectivity and objectivity. For instance, I personally don’t like Pulp Fiction, even though it is widely considered to be the acclaimed director’s best, due to how nothing apparently happens for a reason (and scenes are shown out of order in a non-linear fashion).
Despite that, I find Once Upon A Time In Hollywood to be my second favourite Tarantino movie after Inglourious Basterds (which I regard as his magnum opus and masterpiece). Passion and charm ooze from every single scene. As both a tribute to the golden age of Hollywood and gosh darn great movie, it is truly exceptional.
FINAL SCORE: 90/100
We received a special preview screening courtesy of Sony Pictures Malaysia. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood premieres in Malaysian cinemas on 15 August 2019.