Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
Four years on from The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s ninth feature takes a different track that feels far more personal to the director and his career. Combining stunning cinematography with beautiful character-driven performances, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is bound to divide Tarantino fans as it submerges its audience in a hypnotic mix of fantasy and reality in a genre-defying slice of cinematic art.
From the outset, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like a think piece, as Tarantino points his lens at a Hollywood studio system and the generational change of the late 1960s and 70s. Here he reflects on the light and dark of a city built on dreams and fantasy while exploring the slow erosion of the studio system. However, at the heart of this Hollywood dissection sits one of the most disturbing events in its history; the LaBianca murders or Tate Murders as they are also known. Here Tarantino dovetails the decline of the studio system with the murders that horrified a city and industry while equally subverting the latter.
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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) is now a mere gofer to Dalton’s emotional and physical needs. However, unlike Dalton, Cliff carries the sole and confidence of a younger man alongside his deeply buried secrets. Here both men represent two sides of the same coin; one desperately clinging to the fantasy of being an all-action hero and the other a whirlwind of testosterone and secrets.
Meanwhile, next door to Rick, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) have recently moved in, and unlike Rick, their careers are only just coming into bud; their home in the hills shared with hairdresser Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). But out in the desert beyond the sunshine-soaked city, the Manson cult attracts a growing band of followers who have the Hollywood dream in their sights.
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Unlike many previous outings, Tarantino is in no rush to jump into the action, taking his time in slowly and methodically building a sense of tension. But Tarantino also never allows the viewer to fall into complacency as he twists and turns the narrative while joyously subverting the audience’s expectations. As you find yourself swept away by the performances and the winding narrative, Tarantino suddenly and sharply plays his trump card with an audacious final act that turns history on its head in a way only he could achieve.
For some, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may feel too slow, lacking the frantic energy they seek from a Tarantino film. But for others, including me, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may just be Tarantino’s greatest work to date, a beautiful creative risk bathed in audaciousness.
Director: Quentin Tarantino