Friday, July 26, 2019

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019) - Review

Quentin Tarantino's ninth movie is a love letter to Hollywood and filmmaking. Tarantino the director is at his very best in constructing beautiful long shots and getting the best performance from his actors. Tarantino the writer, however, has written a fan fiction with inconsistencies, non-organic tonal changes, and unearned subversion of expectations.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the character of Rick Dalton, a former A-list TV actor who is past his prime and has been relegated to guest appearances as the villain in other TV shows. His loyal stunt double, Cliff Booth - played by Brad Pitt, has his destiny tied to Dalton's star power. Besides these two fictional character, the rest are real people acting or residing in Hollywood in 1969.

The first 90 minutes out of the 161-minute runtime of the movie is very much about how movies and TV shows were (and still are) made, rise and fall of fame, and the struggles of show business. As a life-long fan of movies, I very much enjoyed this part and I simply couldn't get enough! Not tonally, but spiritually, it was similar to Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar from 2016. DiCaprio was phenomenal acting as an actor on a production (very meta!), and how he dealt with an identity crisis. Brad Pitt also made me believe he had been a stunt performer all his life! As the trailers have shows, there are short appearances by other prominent Hollywood figures from 1969 (including Bruce Lee, Roman Polanski, and James Stacey).

The latter hour of the movie transforms from a character study to a horror film when Brad Pitt's character visits the Spahn Movie Ranch after giving a ride to a member of the Manson family. The horror and thriller aspects reach their peak with Manson's disciples trip to Hollywood. This section is where the tone changes unexpectedly with a rather long narration by Kurt Russell.  What was disorienting most about this narration was the fact that Kurt Russell had appeared earlier as a stuntman, and really had no reason to be the omniscient narrator 90 minutes into the movie!

We also spend a few minutes looking at Margot Robbie (acting as Sharon Tate), watching a Sharon Tate movie! It's bordering on spoilers territory, but inclusion of Sharon Tate in "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" did not contribute to the plot one iota other than subverting an expectation near the end!

Tarantino has expressed in interviews that he was a huge fan of Sharon Tate in his childhood, and this gives the impression that he simply wanted to write a fan fiction to appease his teenage self. I'm sure almost everyone has created scenarios about their childhood celebrity crushes in their minds. Of course, only an infinitesimal portion of us have the power and resources to make a movie based on the fan fiction. Quentin Tarantino is among that select few...

The movie's high points are its actors' performances as well as the beautiful shots of Los Angeles. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is still a pretty good film, but I'd rank it seventh out of the nine that Tarantino has made (above Hateful Eight and Death Proof), and give it a 7.5/10.

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