2019 ***** 161 mins.
In a world of never-ending superhero movies, sequels, remakes, and reboots, one filmmaker dares to deliver a fairy tale of the Hollywood of days past. Quentin Tarantino brings his historical fantasy style of filmmaking to the year 1969, to a little street called Cielo Drive, where a once-big-time Western TV actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) has just moved into a house next door to Roman Polanski and his beautiful new bride, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Together with his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Rick does the best he can to keep from falling into the oblivion of Hollywood stars on the way out, while at the same time, Sharon Tate is adorably discovering how much she loves Hollywood and how much Hollywood is falling in love with her. Meanwhile, wandering the streets are a band of hippies who seem to have a strange sort of family bond to a man named "Charlie," back where they live at the old Spahn Movie Ranch.
It truly feels as though everything Quentin Tarantino has made up to this point has all been leading here. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood bears all the distinctive Tarantino hallmarks while in the same right feeling fresher and more polished than anything he has ever done before. It's definitely a film made by a talented director at the top of his craft. Every shot is a work of art, every moment generates an unforgettable feeling from its viewer, and the soundtrack is simply killer! The performances are top notch, from Leonardo DiCaprio's freak-out in his trailer, to his oh-so-slight stutter when he's obviously a bit nervous; from Brad Pitt's cockiness in the presence of the great Bruce Lee, to his acid trip at a very inopportune moment; from Margot Robbie's carefree dancing at the Playboy Mansion to her awe-filled afternoon at the movie theatre. I hate to only talk about the three leads, as every supporting actor does a fantastic job, as well. "And I say 'actor,' not 'actress,' because the word 'actress' is nonsensical," to quote Julia Butters as Trudi Fraser, a young girl who steals the show in her two all-too-short scenes. I expect to see great things from her in the future!
Like any great film that breaks new ground and conventions, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood has been the center of some controversy among critics and audiences, and I'd like to address some of them. First, I want to clear up the "sexism" people still try to bestow upon Quentin and this film. The whole film is a love letter, not only to Hollywood, but to Sharon Tate. Tate was an incredibly talented individual who was on her way to superstardom when she was taken from this world unexpectedly. Tarantino goes to great lengths to show us this amazing woman as not just the sex icon she was but also as a human being. She's a character we can all relate to, very down-to-earth and endearing. Quentin Tarantino, a director whose love for female feet is no secret, even goes to the extreme of showing us that the bottom of Sharon's feet are dirty, as she props them up on a seat in front of her in the movie theatre, thereby de-sexualizing her, at least as far as this film and its point are concerned.
Another controversy comes from Mike Moh's portrayal of Bruce Lee. The scene in question has Brad Pitt's character challenging Lee to a fight, seemingly "belittling" him. That's not the case at all. It's merely a comedic scene meant to, once again, bring some humanity to a man who is always considered as just an icon. We all have our faults, our egos, and our shortcomings, no matter how great we are. If anything, this film makes me like Bruce Lee even more because of the humanity Tarantino has given him. Again, it's no secret that Tarantino actually admires the work of Bruce Lee. The Bride's yellow-and-black outfit in Kill Bill comes from a Bruce Lee film. Game of Death, to be precise. Later in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, Tarantino shows Lee training Sharon Tate for her role in The Wrecking Crew. So, to say the scene between Bruce Lee and Cliff Booth is disrespectful is just utter nonsense.
The final controversy I'd like to address is also related to sexism, as well as racism. There are some arrogant modernists who feel Quentin Tarantino's love letter to the old Hollywood way of making movies says that he feels movies should only be made by Caucasian men. Again, "That's a big fucking lie" (Kurt Russell as the Narrator/Randy Miller). Quentin Tarantino, as well as myself, prefers the old Hollywood that made films that were original, inventive, and had more to them than just the calculated money-machines put out today. We prefer our films to be shot on film. We prefer our films to exist for a reason, other than just to make money. A film should be an experience, and this film truly is that...an experience. I was fortunate enough to see this film in theatres four times, and I still wish I had seen it more times than that. This film has deeply rooted itself in my very soul. Its soundtrack feels like the soundtrack of my life, my childhood. Even though I didn't grow up in the '60s, that decade of music has always been my favorite. When I saw the first trailer for this film, and Paul Revere and the Raiders' "Good Thing" blasted from the soundtrack, I freaked out! I've always felt that Paul Revere and the Raiders deserve much more attention nowadays than they have, and it's quite apparent that Quentin does, too! This film has four Paul Revere and the Raiders songs in it, three of which appear on the soundtrack album! One even appears on the 45 RPM vinyl inside the limited edition 4K blu-ray!
Finally, when the last scene of the film comes on, the tears start coming to my eyes. By the time the title card comes on, I am crying big, puppy-dog tears because I am full of so many mixed emotions. It's important to remember going into this film, that this is a fairy tale, hence the title, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.
Original theatrical aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (Panavision)
Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.
Written and Directed by