Four years on from The Hateful Eight, a film that garnered very mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike. Tarantino’s ninth feature is mature, visually stunning and nuanced filmmaking. Holding your attention, despite its slower pace with cinematography, performances and script writing that sings. While submerging you in a hypnotic mix of fantasy versus reality.
This is Tarantino in reflective mode, pointing his lens and unique style of filmmaking at a Hollywood studio system in a changing world. Reflecting the light and darkness of a city built on dreams and fantasy, alongside the aspiration and hope of youth, and disappointment and rejection of mid life.
Split across three groups of people in 1969 Los Angeles, Tarantino creates a mosaic of late 60s experience, pop art and music in a changing Hollywood. Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), is a washed up and anxious TV and film star, desperately trying to revive his ailing career. His friend and one time stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) now more of a gofer to Daltons emotional needs; an unlikely PA providing a stabilising influence in Ricks alcohol fuelled life. While Cliff himself carries the sole and confidence of younger man alongside deep rooted secrets. His stunt career slowly drawing to a close with pervading rumours that he killed his wife sitting alongside a fiery disposition that often leads to onset conflict.
Both men reflecting two sides of the same coin, one desperately clinging to the fantasy of being an all action hero, while the other happily lives on the edges of society, his life a whirlwind of testosterone and secrets.
Living next door to Rick, yet isolated in their own Hollywood bubble, the younger generation of talent grow and nurture their careers. Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and hairdresser Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) all reflecting the move from 60s Hollywood to the youthful exuberance of 1970s. The new guard of the Hollywood system on the march with their young and fresh ideas, slowly challenging the older Hollywood elite.
Finally, sitting in the corners of the sunshine soaked city, we have the growing darkness of the Manson cult. His girls playing with city their naivety soaked in sexuality and secrecy. Manson’s growing band of followers seeping through the streets and backlots of the Hollywood dream.
Tarantino is in no rush to jump into action, slowly and methodically building a sense of tension, humour and belonging over the 2hr 45min run time. This allows his amazing cast to perform to perfection, never rushing their exploration of the hidden depths of each character. With scenes that allow the audience to build empathy and understanding, while feeling a part of the wider journey.
The majority of on screen time is dedicated to DiCaprio and Pitt, who shine from start to finish, with truly electric performances, and character studies that play to the strengths of both actors. While Margot Robbie reflects the joy, excitement and dreams of a young Hollywood star. Her gestures, body language and dialogue beautifully framed into scenes of escapism, celebration and youthful exuberance. Cameos play to Tarantino’s slate of films, as he mixes the reality of the 60s Hollywood studio system with the fiction of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth.
Tarantino allows his audience to be enchanted and swept away by the performances, the music, and the gloriously rich cinematography. Finally stoking the tension in the final act, as we build to an audacious mix of fantasy and crime, that only Tarantino could pull off.
From the opening to closing credits Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels far more personal than many of Tarantino’s previous films. Laced with a sadness at the slow erosion of creativity and risk in filmmaking. There is a sense of mourning inherent in this beautiful picture; the last gasp of a studio Hollywood system of iconic stars and celluloid. Tarantino using the transition period of the 60’s to highlight the loss of creativity in modern film, where mass marketing and studio profits sit above any potential vision a director may have.
For some Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be too slow and to character driven, lacking the spark they seek from a Tarantino film. But for those who believe that Hollywood must find its creativity again, celebrate risk and allow visionary talent to thrive, this is a film that sings, a director and cast working in unison to create a work of cinematic art.