The 56-year-old director is back with his ninth (and supposedly penultimate) film, continuing his exploration of different time periods. Quentin Tarantino’s last two efforts have both been Westerns (Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight) and now he’s taking audiences on a wild ride through a turning point in the history of his beloved Tinsel Town. Set in 1969, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows Leonardo DiCaprio’s cowboy TV actor Rick Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. Having worked their way up in the world of macho 50s leads, the pair are struggling in a new age of cinema where they’re feeling like has-beens.
All the while, Rick lives next door to one Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who was murdered by the Manson family that very year.
A controversial setting, the late actress’ sister was understandably not keen on Tarantino’s narrative move, but having read the script ended up being in favour of it. The reason being would head into spoilers territory, so let’s stick to the big picture.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is oddly less like a Quentin Tarantino movie than that of his more recent work.
Not following an obvious plot line, there are no chapter title cards this time in what is very much a character-driven piece, feeling more like recent Coen Brothers effort Hail, Caesar! at times.
Of course, there is the usual blood-splattered revenge-driven violence, quirky humour and groovy soundtrack, while the director’s iconic dialogue is prominent throughout.
But, if anything, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is more of an immersive experience of 1969 Los Angeles, inviting the audience to hang out with characters as they go about their daily lives and struggles.
Naturally, this method across the film’s 161-minute runtime is somewhat self-indulgent of Tarantino, with a meandering middle, but ultimately proves a delight all-in-all.
DiCaprio is the stand-out, acting his socks off, as his Rick struggles through his career troubles, balanced with the meta task of playing an actor portraying a character – something he pulls of beautifully.
While Pitt’s Cliff is marked by the star’s famous grin and charm, exuded by his strong presence and stinging self-defence in some of the more tense moments of the film. And then there’s Robbie, who is perfectly cast as Tate, capturing her innocent, carefree joy at life, before she was so tragically snatched from existence prematurely.
Watch out also for cameos from Tarantino regulars like Kurt Russell and Bruce Dern, while Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant and newly cast Elvis star Austin Butler put in some strong performances. However, it’s 10-year-old Julia Butters who steals the show as precocious child actress Trudi Fraser, proving she’s a talent to watch.
While Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like it will divide QT fans when compared to his back catalogue, it goes without saying the film will be a hot contender for Best Picture come the 2020 Oscars. After all, the Academy loves nothing more than a movie about its very own La La Land.
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is released in UK cinemas on August 14, 2019.