Quentin Tarantino isn’t the young firebrand he used to be, crafting cutting-edge movies with whip-smart dialogue, acerbic characters and graphic, mesmerizing violence. He’s older now, more cautious, and if a movie is ever reflective of a man, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a perfect example.
That’s not to say OUATIH doesn’t possess any of the Tarantino-esque qualities, but it’s a noted departure from his extremes. The film is slow and meandering, especially the first half as it builds towards the explosive climax. Tarantino is pensive here; he — along with his main characters, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) — is questioning what lies ahead as his career is approaching sunset.
The movie follows Hollywood star Dalton, who’s coming to terms with his TV and movie roles (or lack thereof) and diminishing popularity, while his stunt double Booth, tethered to the actor throughout his career, is forced to endure the same introspection. Along the way, the moviegoing audience is absolutely immersed in old Hollywood — the days of glitz and glamour, blond hair, beauty and massive celebrity. There are so many nods and inside jokes about cinema and TV, they’re impossible to count. OUATIH is a cinephile’s dream.
Is this one of those movies that glamourizes the idea of Hollywood?
Yes, but mostly old Hollywood. There are no illusions here about what Hollywood eventually becomes, and the movie is a love letter to what it was and what it could have been. This is epitomized in the Sharon Tate character, played almost wordlessly by Margot Robbie — seriously, she has about 15 lines. She’s wide-eyed, young and semi-new to the movie biz, full of passion for movies and being in Hollywood. In one scene, she giddily goes and watches herself on the big screen in a local theatre and revels in the audience’s reactions to her.
Her visceral, almost naive love of Hollywood is plainly juxtaposed with Dalton’s desperate clinging to whatever he can get just to stay afloat in a business moving forward without him. Still, each of them seeks to be recognized — the ultimate sign you’ve made it in Tinseltown.
How are the performances?
As one would expect with this stellar cast and a Tarantino script, pretty damn good. Expect Oscar nods for Pitt and DiCaprio. The two A-listers easily riff off of one another and have an appealing “old buddy” chemistry. (One funny scene, in particular, has the two immensely famous actors ruing the fact that people don’t know who they are.)
Robbie, as discussed, is woefully underused, but that might be the point: if she’s meant to represent what Hollywood could have been, it makes sense for her to be seen and not really heard. It still feels weak to see her have top billing but not have a huge role in the movie. And while it’s fun to have cameos from actors like Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning and even the late Luke Perry, they’re all blips on the radar, barely on screen enough to make an impact. It, unfortunately, adds a messiness to the film.
How about the music? The violence? The Tarantino things we’d expect?
As usual, the soundtrack is phenomenal — Tarantino’s music selection is always on point. But don’t be fooled by the trailer, featuring DiCaprio dancing jauntily in a tan jacket: this movie is hardly upbeat. It’s pensive, ruminating and features a lot of staring into space. Similarly, the excessive violence that we’re used to from Tarantino is almost entirely absent, save for the incendiary climax and two or three other scenes.
Whether deliberate or not, it shows a new side to Tarantino. Is he just getting older, or is this a purposeful move? An interesting topic for discussion, to be sure.
So what’s the bottom line?
OUATIH is the ninth movie from Tarantino, and it shows growth that we haven’t seen from him before. He claims this is his last movie, but that remains to be seen. In any case, it’s a fun, glossy, sunny look at Hollywood as it used to be, despite its sordid underbelly. Great acting anchors the movie, and it leaves you with a cinematic nostalgia.
‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.