“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Movie Review

Story posted August 30, 2019 in Arts & Entertainment by Scott Perdue.

This movie was originally released on July 26, 2019.

The ninth film from legendary director Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a sentimental love letter to the long gone Hollywood glory days of the late 1960s. Crafting a derailed version of the infamously brutal Manson family murders, Tarantino rewrites history in order to provide the audience with a world where the good times potentially never had to end.

Receiving widespread acclaim with his directorial debut “Reservoir Dogs,” Tarantino has quickly become one of the film industry’s most recognizable directors. Supplying the world with an iconic arsenal of memorable characters and stories, Tarantino’s mark on pop culture is undisputed, thanks to films such as “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds.” Counting down his films one by one, Tarantino claims to only intend to create ten films to cement his legacy as a director. If that’s unfortunately true, his second to last film holds up as a proper testament to his directorial prestige.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” embarks on a fictional joyride, following the life of a washed-up western actor named Rick Dalton, played by Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and his slick stunt double best friend Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt.

While Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are undeniably worthy of Tarantino’s extensive list of unforgettable characters, the story of the film drags on a little too often in seemingly pointless areas.

One of the most blatant instances of this is the shocking lack of presence that Sharon Tate’s character, played by Margot Robbie, seems to have in the film. Other than of course being the unfortunate center of the infamous tragic murders, Tate’s role in the film feels somewhat forced. Compared to her overwhelmingly memorable Tarantino female character counterparts, Sharon Tate’s character doesn’t reach the bar at all.

Tarantino himself has even admitted that he intentionally wanted to keep Tate a non-Tarantino character. Tarantino has gone on to defend his portrayal of Tate, claiming that his characterizing of her as a loving and free-spirited person was intended to help her rise from being remembered as nothing more than a tragic murder victim. While his efforts to present Tate in a more celebratory and positive lens are admirable, Tarantino seems to be straddling an unsteady line between his outrageous fictional stories and an odd infusion of real-life events.

It is noteworthy to remember that his film “Inglourious Basterds” was also an instance of rewritten history, showcasing real-life people interacting with Tarantino’s fictional characters. Although he once again attempts the same approach, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is nowhere near as successful an execution and unfortunately just barely fails to blend the real world and Tarantino universe into a form that is truly worth diving into for the audience. Even though the ending of the film takes a pleasantly surprising Tarantino-approved climactic turn, it isn’t quite enough to make up for some of the film’s shortcomings.

In essence, Tarantino pigeonholes himself into crafting his real-world characters with delicate handling, which coincidentally does not allow him to successfully immerse the audience in a true-to-form Tarantino story. That being said, the dialogue of the film and several moments of the story do supply the viewer with what one should expect from a Tarantino film. For instance, the soundtrack is overflowing with classic tracks that are perfect at immersing the viewer in the decade, similar in style to films like “American Graffiti” and “Forrest Gump.”

One of Tarantino’s most successful accomplishments in the film is his ability to showcase both a glorified and critical view of Hollywood. The excavation into Dalton’s feelings of fleeting purpose supply the viewer with a storyline that is often overlooked. Meanwhile, the viewer is also provided with an overwhelmingly pleasant nostalgia trip into the glory days of Hollywood cinema.

An interesting distinction in the film’s flow is Tarantino’s ability to avoid relying entirely on his action sequences to move the story. While not always executed the best, this marks a particularly significant instance of growth in Tarantino’s directorial ability, and his deliberate decision to concentrate his trademark cathartic ultra-violence into very specific moments is fairly impressive. This film also comes at an important moment in Tarantino’s career. Many of the film’s themes and plot points seem to echo Tarantino’s own personal experiences with middle age and a potentially unclear future for his own career.

While Tarantino on a bad day is undeniably better than most directors on a good day, his latest effort just falls short in some respects when compared against some of his far more impressive and memorable bodies of work. However, even with all of its shortcomings, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is without a doubt one of the best films of the summer. It is also evident in exhibiting that Tarantino hasn’t by any means lost his touch. Hopefully his potential final film will be able to showcase all that his audience expects and will truly fit the bill as an outstanding exhibition of Tarantino’s legacy.

Rating: 4/5


Scott Perdue is a junior majoring in secondary education. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.