• Roni Cooper

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

If what he has said is to be believed, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s penultimate feature film. Declaring he will retire after making ten movies, his recent fare has a little more pressure thrust upon it than usual, and, although less bombastic than his normally blood-soaked oeuvre, his latest is no exception.

Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is a fading television star at the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and worries what his future has in store for him. Along with his stunt man, Cliff Booth (Pitt), the two navigate their way through Los Angeles over a weekend in February 1969. Meanwhile, young actress Sharon Tate (Robbie) moves in next door.

Tarantino’s work has never been without contention, and, somewhat predictably, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be polarising for the majority. Despite the looming threat of The Manson Family setting up camp near Dalton and Tate’s homes, the film is in no hurry to drive us to the fateful night of August 8th 1969, instead setting up shop some six months before – this is not about dramatizing the Tate murders, but rather the death of old Hollywood itself, and some viewers may find the drift through a fictitious weekend in February too slow to engage with.

For myself, however, this was not the case. Simultaneously lamenting the end of an era whilst celebrating a new talent cut down in its prime, its taut, dialogue-heavy script is another marvel from the extraordinarily sharp Tarantino, his encyclopaedic knowledge infusing the scenes with a sense of belonging to an exclusive club for the ultra-nerd cinephiles. The laughs are frequent, albeit not entirely obvious, but everything is delivered impeccably by the movie’s cast.

Quite the cast it is too; this is the second time around with Tarantino for both DiCaprio and Pitt (Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds respectively) and the two have never looked more at ease or to be having as much fun as they do with their director. Both are fantastic, DiCaprio showcasing an ability to imbue his performances with a tragi-comic quality, whilst Pitt is far more subdued, an everyday man with something a little terrifying simmering beneath the surface, and it is perhaps his best role in years.

Robbie, in the meantime, works incredibly well with what little she’s given. Despite press coverage implying that this is solely about the murder of Sharon Tate, she is almost an afterthought, but it’s evident that Tarantino uses this opportunity to honour the late actress. Robbie is a charming presence, and plays Tate with a sweetness you’re hopeful was the real deal – it’s just a shame there isn’t a little more of her, and you get the sense that there’s a lot on the cutting room floor.

The story must lead somewhere, however, and it’s just a matter of time before reaching the film’s inevitable climax, and ending fraught with an intensity built up over the previous two hours and twenty minute running time. It is an incredibly fast-moving sequence, the violence that Tarantino’s been holding in over the first two acts released within five minutes, making it one of the more oddly cathartic finales in recent cinematic history. If you’re already on board with the rest of the film, chances are, you’ll find it a tad relieving.

Slow and steady wins the race, and this is the tightest film Tarantino has produced in a while, even at a runtime of two hours and forty minutes. Its meandering and lack of urgency may frustrate some, but for others, it’ll be an entertaining ride through a changing Los Angeles.

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