It’s official old buddy, I’m a has-been.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – I love Quentin Tarantino, he could write a phone book and I would probably praise it as genius. So it means something when I say not only is this film brilliant, but it’s one of Tarantino’s best. From the man who taught me to love film, has outdone himself once again.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a story of place, nostalgia, and fear for the future. It shows a man struggling to figure out what’s next, spinning in the beautiful Los Angeles sunlight and the rhythm of a Hollywood golden age. It is a film anchored by terrific performances, that captures Tarantino at its best while also allowing him to differ from his previous work. Here the film is about the importance of an era and the characters that could have populated it, and relies less on violence to get that point across.
Hollywood in 1969 is realized in beautiful detail, from the spinning lights, smooth cars, and easygoing songs. From appearances by Bruce Lee, to fun moments at the Playboy Mansion, it gives us the best of that era.
This movie could have easily become a toy, something to look at but not examine too deeply. Thankfully it is a thoughtful film as well, and has plenty of terrific and serious moments to anchor it. Leo is terrific as Rick Dalton, managing to bring melancholy and muse to the character. Dalton is looking back wondering where to go now. From the long stares, to crying over a novel that’s particularly timely, Dicaprio seems to embody Tarantino. The torture and the pain is a terrific touch, with lines and great scenes to go along with it.
However, he is bested by his partner Brad Pitt, delivering a terrific performance as Dalton’s stunt double Cliff Booth. Cool, funny, but pained all the same, Booth is the soul that in Dalton needs. He is funny, but also gives a jolt when needed. Both men deliver endearing performances, at points in their careers when it was easy to wonder if they had anything left.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is how Tarantino plays with the expectations. While I will not spoil anything, just know that even with all that has been written about the Manson murders, expect the unexpected. It is a brilliant and charming twist on a tale told over and over again.