Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is showing at the Historic Theater from February 7-8.

Quentin Tarantino writes a stirring homage to 1960s Hollywood in this tale of disappearing stardom sprinkled with comedy, violence, and Charles Manson’s “family” in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It’s a great mixture of vintage Hollywood and Tarantino’s great love of classic westerns. Rick Dalton was once a big star in the western-style primetime show Bounty Law but now he’s been relegated to guest star baddie on a slew of well-known shows. He, along with his stunt double-turned-driver-and-handyman Cliff, try to navigate the downward spiral of Rick’s career. All the while, Charles Manson’s family members walk the streets of Hollywood.

The movie is both sad and funny as Leonardo DiCaprio brings real emotion into his portrayal of Rick. He is both egotistical and yet very vulnerable in his fear that his career is ending. Leo expertly gives the audience a character who wants to show confidence but is in fact very insecure. His balance of control and tantrum is perfect and he chooses to stammer to demonstrate the constant attempt to control his nerves. DiCaprio plays Rick not as a tortured genius or a Hollywood diva, but as a real actor who is losing confidence in himself. There are a lot of spot-on moments anyone who has worked with actors before can relate to, my favorite being when Rick operates a flame thrower and then asks “Can we do anything about this heat?” Brad Pitt as Cliff is a steadfast badass who casually has a faceoff with Manson’s “mother bear” one moment and a fistfight while tripping on acid the next. Pitt’s acid-tripping Cliff is one of the highlights of the film—he’s still just as composed and but it’s like he is discovering things for the first time. However, I enjoyed a few moments as much as the little scene-stealer Julia Butters’ interactions with DiCaprio, Hollywood royalty, and how she handles herself like she could not care less. She plays a child actor who is extremely invested and overly serious about her role. The film is peppered with a who’s who of Hollywood: children of stars and classic stars taking on small roles, some being very memorable.

The filmmaking is of course great. It feels very Tarantino yet the extreme violence he is known for is very contained. Everything reads very accurately to the time period—the show previews, the billboards, the commercials seem familiar. The props department must have had a field day with all the period décor and items. One of the best moments is a special scene where Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate watches her newest film. It’s not only fun to just watch her enjoy the people reacting to the film but also Tarantino chooses to keep the real Sharon Tate is the film being shown. Would it have been a cleaner choice to have inserted Robbie’s image into the classic film? Oh sure. But the way they do it allows Sharon Tate to be represented and appreciated instead of just used as a vehicle for the storyline.

This film is fun, funny, and doesn’t really feel like it drags although it is long at 2hr 40min (a piece of cake if you’ve seen The Irishman). Tarantino has always been hit or miss for me personally but this was definitely a hit. If you enjoy the 60s, old Hollywood, Tarantino, DiCaprio, or westerns, this will probably work for you. Also, if you have ever worked with actors it is enjoyable to see the slew of actor personalities that will seem very familiar.