Whether your'e a film buff or not, if there's a new Quentin Tarantino movie coming out you'll know about it. The highly stylish and provocative auteur has the incredible ability to draw massive crowds with his event-type movies. Making a name for himself with all time greats such as Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill - Tarantino has left his stamp on mainstream cinema with over-the-top violence and marvellously quippy dialogue. Operating for almost three decades, we are reaching the twilight years of his directing career as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is said to be his penultimate film - ten being the magic number. A faded television star and his stuntman strive to kickstart their careers in the twilight years of Hollywood's golden age...
There's star power but no stardust in Tarantino's Hollywood walk of shame. This spangly sixties drama feels like a warm evening stroll along sunset strip, but then your feet start to ache and swell and you question why you kept going. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood straps you in for over two painstaking hours of drawn out scenes only to catastrophically fall apart in the third act. Renowned for his game-changing narrative framework, there is absolutely no structure or direction whatsoever and due to the weaknesses of his script, leaving the biggest question on your mind walking out of this stodgy romp to be What was the point?
To some degree there is meaning in this largely meaningless movie. Tarantino recalls pioneer of the spaghetti-western Sergio Leone not only through the cinema doting title, but through a range of pans and crane shots which overview LA as though it were the expansive wild, wild west - not to mention DiCaprio's TV cowboy Rick Dalton. In fact, of all Tarantino's work, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood expresses him most as a director, a true lover of cinema. It's rather magical adopting the QT POV - overflowing with nostalgia he walks us through the behind-the-scenes of western shows, ingeniously transforming the camera into the on set TV cam which becomes disrupted by Rick Dalton stuttering his lines, reversing the pan and returning to its starting position. But perhaps the most magical moment comes when a fabulous (though sparingly utilised) Sharon Tate makes her way to a local theatre to watch herself in the Dean Martin led James Bond rip-off The Wrecking Crew. Margot Robbie perfectly captures the wide eyed wonder and hopefulness of the Hollywood dream, anonymously watching herself in the pictures and enjoying the audiences' positive reception.
But Tarantino gets way over his head, from his down-right racist depiction of Bruce Lee to the extremely self-indulgent and lacklustre screenplay. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is nothing more than a small tale of a fading star attempting to revive his career; all the other elements such as Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders annoyingly fade away into the backdrop. Like with Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino rewrites history but does so in a very anti-climatic and irrelevant manner. It's not a case of him "brilliantly subverting expectations" - it's the fact that we spend copious amounts of time with Rick Dalton grumbling about his career, patiently waiting for the underlying suspense to come to a head. The dissatisfying denouement collapses the entire film as a result, leaving more than enough to be desired.
But all is not lost - It's February 1969, Los Bravos is blasting out of the radio in Rick Dalton's Cadillac, and as the sun goes down the neon lights blinker on all over tinsel town. Robert Richardson's yellow-tinged, sun-kissed cinematography is dazzling, melding together with the best Tarantino soundtrack since Jackie Brown, creating a shimmery, hazy daydream. Tarantino's camerawork isn't flamboyant like his previous instalments - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood celebrates genre conventions like the iconic hip-level-shot whilst energising itself with standout tracking shots.
Though struggling and rising actors are at the heart of this cinema celebration, the stars in it don't shine too brightly. DiCaprio becomes surprisingly one-dimensional as down on his luck Rick Dalton; on one hand he captures the crushing defeat of a faded actor, on the other his performance is really monotonous and unlikeable. Robbie is completely cast aside as the ill-fated Sharon Tate, and does the best with what little screen time she has. But ultimately, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood owes itself to Brad Pitt in his scene stealing turn as the loveably laid back side-man Cliff Booth. Summed up perfectly by Rick in the very opening scene, Cliff is there to "carry the load" - Cliff is the best buddy anybody could ask for, I could spend hours watching Pitt cruise along the highway carrying out chores for Rick. His smooth, feet on the dashboard type vibe sets himself aside from Rick's high maintenance, sipping on Bloody Marys and chomping on celery sticks.
Regardless of the typical Tarantino shock and awe, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels empty and purposeless. Tarantino lets excitement get the better of him. This is his most personal film yet, but he gets too caught up in capturing the nostalgia of sixties Hollywood. Though clearly made with passion, this feels like a chore to sit through - the dialogue is way less quick witted and the screenplay in general has a complete lack of structure and zest. Given the historical context of Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders, Tarantino has more than enough material to toy with but the outcome is something far less daring.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood:
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.