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Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Austin Bruns
July 29, 2019


Quentin Tarantino’s newest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, an alternate-history tale about the events leading up to the Manson Family Murders, was not exactly the traditional Tarantino movie I was expecting. There were a lot of scenes typical to the rest of his catalogue – actors looking cool, driving cool cars, listening to cool music. Everything, as is emphasized in all Tarantino movies, is very cool.

One glaring difference of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is that the movie almost entirely lacks violent action scenes, like Vincent and Jules shooting up the apartment in Pulp Fiction or the frequent martial arts scenes prevalent in Kill Bill. That is, until one of the last scenes in the movie when the violence is so completely outrageous it’s actually more like comedy. (Not sure what was more ridiculous, the head smashing or the flame thrower).

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Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth - the stuntman to DiCaprio's Rick Dalton character

Instead, the responsibility of entertaining the audience for the majority of the movie fell to the colorful cast of characters, the stylish set designs, and the wonderful 60’s aesthetic that the film was absolutely dripping with. 

The cast was highlighted by Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton), Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth), and Margot Robbie (Sharon Tate), all of whom excelled on the big screen.

DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is a famous cowboy actor out of the Golden Age of Hollywood who is experiencing a mental breakdown at the idea of his career taking a nosedive in a new and unfamiliar era. His anxieties lead him to drink heavily and the dark humor surrounding his frustrations make for some of the best scenes in the movie.

It seemed like we were going to get a deeper exploration of Rick Dalton’s alcohol abuse, anxiety, and depression throughout the film, but by the end we find that the character could just as easily not had those traits and it wouldn’t have made a profound difference to its conclusion. These eccentricities of DiCaprio’s character were more-so to bring something interesting to the character rather than an attempt to investigate any real-life implications of those issues.

Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, a down to earth stuntman and best friend to Rick Dalton. Booth is best known in the Hollywood community for rumors that he murdered his wife and got away with it. Even with that admittedly dark caveat, I have to say he’s a pretty likeable guy. He’s a supportive friend to Dalton through and through, despite many of Rick’s shortcomings and frequent outbursts. He also lives a drastically juxtaposed lifestyle to that of Dalton (living in a small trailer parked behind an old drive-in theater as opposed to Dalton’s Hollywood mansion).

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Leonardo DiCaprio as fictional actor Rick Dalton in Quentin Tarantino's 'One Upon a Time in Hollywood'

However, he never once mentions or even seems to feel any resentment towards Dalton, which I found to be an honorable trait. He’s content with the life he has and enjoys his meals of mac and cheese, ice cold beer, and the companionship of his show stealing pit bull, Brandy.

Margot Robbie is whimsically lovable as Sharon Tate, who seems to float playfully through life with the innocence and wonderment of a young child. She makes instant friends with a hitchhiker she picks up during a drive into town and gushes adorably at the audience reacting positively to her acting when she stops by the cinema. Everything about her character is charming, which makes the audience really hate the idea that something bad is going to happen to her later. Luckily, this film is an alternate history a-la a Harry Turtledove novel and we don’t have to deal with the reality of her on the gruesome end of a murder.

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is not Quentin Tarantino’s masterwork (I still think that honor belongs to Pulp Fiction), but it was still a very enjoyable film.

The movie isn’t trying to explore the deep seeded issues of its characters or trying to make a profound statement about the nature of the world we live in. Instead, this is simply a movie about Tarantino’s love for movies and the Golden Age of Hollywood. After all, the alternate history ending depicts our two heroes saving the day and killing the bad guys. If that’s not a “Hollywood ending”, I don’t know what is.

Did you love “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood?” How do you think it stacks up to other Tarantino films?

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