Connect with us

Film Festivals

‘Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood’ Review: Dir. Quentin Tarantino (2019) [Cannes]

Sony Pictures

Before the very first screening of Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, an announcer took to the stage to read a personal letter from its writer, co-producer, and director, Quentin Tarantino. It was another reminder that we, as press, should preserve the experience of the film and let moviegoers enjoy it without spoilers, just like we were about to. It’s a big trend these days – the Russo brothers did something similar for Avengers: Endgame, and filmmaker Bong Joon Ho has issued a similar plea in the official press notes for his 2019 Cannes entry Parasite, which screens later in the week. Of course, we will abide by this and ensure there’s nothing that will reveal the plot in the following paragraphs.

What I will say is this; Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is up there with some of Tarantino’s best work. It’s very different to what I first expected; slightly more offbeat and funnier than his previous eight movies. It’s the filmmaker’s ode to the golden era of Hollywood; a love letter to film and television of the 1950s and 1960s, with the true story of the Manson family in the background. It’s a film that needs to settle in the mind, and truly digest, but as I type this, an hour after walking out of the auditorium, I think it might just become my favourite Tarantino of them all.

Related: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood gets a new trailer

We are introduced in the opening scenes to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rock Dalton, a seasoned veteran of the film and television world whose star is fading. Brad Pitt is his career stunt double Cliff Booth, a man who is more like a brother than a friend from work, and it’s clear from the start that they share a close bond. Dalton is being wooed by the Italian film industry, Al Pacino’s Hollywood big shot Marvin Schwarzs, tempting him with a move to Rome (ala Clint Eastwood in his Sergio Leone period). Dalton has been confined to playing bad guy roles in westerns in Hollywood, and Schwarzs advise that the move to Europe for six months could alter the direction of his career. There’s also Sharon Tate, here played by Margot Robbie, whose fate was sealed in the August of that year when she was brutally murdered by members of Charles Manson’s ‘family’, along with Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch), Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger (Samantha Robinson). All are depicted here, but Tarantino approaches the subject matter with delicacy and good taste – but there’s tons of fun to be had too.

The first half of the film largely focusses on Dalton and his fading career. We get snapshots from past projects – I will tell you that a stand-out moment involves a huge flame thrower – and ome that he is currently shooting – also a western where again, he plays the bad guy. Pitt’s Booth is also involved and has his own narrative – he’s possibly the stand-out here and delivers most of the laughs, and his scenes with his pet dog are brilliant. A shoe-in for the Palm Dog this year, surely.

DiCaprio owns his character from the outset, and his reunion with Tarantino following Django Unchained (where he also played the villain) is massively on-point. One specific scene will land him an acting nomination on its own merit- it’s during an a movie-in-a-movie moment half way in. I wanted to stand up and applaud him then and there. Robbie is also great as Tate, but the character and that aspect of the story are very much in the periphery.

At over 160 minutes, the film is long and there is a lot covered, by as with most of Tarantino’s work, the film rolls along at break-neck speed. As a viewer I was having too much of a good time to be looking down at my watch, as was everyone on screen. The person having the most fun though, is clearly Tarantino. It is the film you would expect him to make, and expect him to be brilliant at making. It is. It is obviously one his most personal films, and pop culture references are of course littered throughout. It has a soundtrack with the usual well-known songs mixed in with more of the obscure, and an excellent classical accompaniment, particularly during the final scenes which will both shock, delight and have you cheering at the screen. The violence on screen is actually less than expected, but during a finale when the filmmaker jumps genres again, he more than makes up for it.

Twisty, turny and full of delights and golden era Hollywood Easter eggs, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is an outstanding piece of work and one of the best and most enjoyable movies of the year. It is funny, warming and also beautiful, both to look at (Robbie Richardson has done it again!) and with its overall feel, and I really can’t wait to see it again. Bravo.

Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood was reviewed at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. It will be released later in the year.


Latest Posts


More in Film Festivals