It’s Tarantino time!
Well, Quentin Tarantino is back on the silver screen again with his 9th feature film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film, set in 1969, follows aging television actor Rick Dalton, best known for his leading role in the late 50’s Western series, Bounty Law. His attempt to transition into movies turned into a disaster, and has since taken small guest roles in other television series, as well as offers to star in low-budget “spaghetti westerns.” The only person who Rick can take comfort in is Cliff Booth, his stunt double from Bounty Law, who is notorious for having killed his wife. As the Golden Age of Hollywood begins to reach its twilight, the two men try their best to stay relevant, with quite out -of-this-world results.
Never in my life have I thought the day would come where I would be reviewing a Quentin Tarantino film. His films always seem to be the most fascinating I’ve come across, because I can’t think of any other filmmaker who matches his bizarre yet absorbing output that only Tarantino can produce. The stories he tells are almost entirely dependent on moments, rather than a grounded story. You can see that this is a filmmaker who loves what he does for a living, you can clearly see his influences reflected in his stories, and proves that sometimes you need to break the rules in order for your work to stand out.
But how do you discuss a film like this without discussing the ending? Well, in a way, you can’t, because there is a major plot element that makes up a major chunk of the film’s identity. What I am able to comment on, however, is the incredible world that Tarantino has created for this film. It is obviously not an original one, since it is depicting 1969 Los Angeles, and features actors of the time like Bruce Lee and Sharon Tate. Its attention to detail, however, is almost immaculate, to the point where you feel like this world is alive again. Everything about the look of this film, from the cars, to the hand drawn posters of “Spaghetti Westerns”, to the labels on dog food evoke the year 1969 flawlessly, and immensely well-photographed by cinematographer Robert Richardson. If Quentin Tarantino was not such a fan of movies, the execution would not work, but it is pretty clear that he does. Scenes from movies and shows like Wrecking Crew and The FBI feature the film’s cast members inserted into certain shots, and it is incredibly seamless, to the point where you can’t even tell where the scenes with effects start. It’s moments like these that really make you appreciate the work of the filmmaker. In an age where it seems like the general public is turning away from cinema, Tarantino shows that there is still some admiration left to be found in his work.
There is at least one sequence in this film that reminded me of how desensitized I have become to watching movies about the making of movies. The sequence involves Dalton doing a take for a film he is acting in, and Tarantino lets the character continue acting the scene out, almost like there is no crew present, and it is almost surprising when you hear Dalton call for his line, as if it was a stage play. Not only do Tarantino and DiCaprio offer a fascinating new perspective on something we have seen many times before, but they also pay incredible tribute to the craft of acting.
It is interesting seeing Leonardo DiCaprio in the role like Rick Dalton, because you would never expect someone like him to fit this role, but he surprisingly does with soaring results. He is exceptionally charismatic and funny, yet endearing, especially since his character represents a dying breed of acting at the time, and even more so today when you think about. I mean, how often nowadays does a movie succeed based solely on the main star anymore? Even more surprising much chemistry DiCaprio has Brad Pitt, who also gives an excellent performance, probably his best in a long time. You almost wish that there were more scenes of them together in the same vein as John Travolta and Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction, even though the situations these two get in are almost completely different. Speaking of Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has mentioned it interviews that this film is the closest to pop fiction he has done in a while. It’s almost impossible not to see why, as there are multiple characters with interconnecting storylines. However, this film has a more linear narrative as opposed to Pulp Fiction, which is told a nonlinear time.
There is, however, not as much dialogue as you would come to expect from this film, which, in a particularly odd fashion, has both a great sense of tension yet a complete lack of it as well. Every minute, you are expecting something to happen in the story, but most of film film’s scenes involve people, mostly actors, sitting around and talking, whether it is talking about the roles in the past, or watching their previous roles on a TV. At the same time, however, a certain plot elements comes to fruition around the second act, and suddenly it starts resembling a type of story we have seen Tarantino tell for his past few films, which I cannot go into much detail over.
People will definitely be split on the ending, but I think that one’s reaction to it will depend of their familiarity with Tarantino’s work. As for me, I loved it! In fact, I loved pretty much all of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and would highly recommend it. On one final note, something else spectacular about a Tarantino film is that you discover more meanings hidden within the story after a few more watches. Since this is only my first viewing, I can only take away so much, but could there be more layers within this story that I haven’t noticed? Well, I shall see on my second viewing!