Review: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – Typically Tarantino But Not Accessible To All

Published by Shah Shahid on

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a complete Quentin Tarantino movie. But that’s stating the obvious. Obviously. The movie is yet another foray into Tarantino’s version of history. Along with great performances, a pretty engaging story, and Hollywood elite all together in the same frame. And it seems that that’s kind of the draw for most Tarantino movies to begin with; the stars.

So retro! | Image via Sony Pictures

As I was watching Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I realized that I’m more excited about these specific stars being on screen together than the story of the movie itself. And based on that thought, the story Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is extremely internal and self-contained. It’s a story that is pretty straightforward, but it’s selling point seems to be, callbacks to the era of Hollywood. Something that went over my head, given my unfamiliarity with that time within the industry. So the usually star studded Tarantino movie, is crammed with even more stars, playing stars of a different Holywood era. Huh.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is all about TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double / best friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The story follows the struggling Dalton through the ups and downs of his career, with Booth along for the ride. Dalton’s story is snippets of the present, with a lot of montages to establish his presence as a famous actor. While Booth’s story happens mostly in the present. His presence in the story is completely to serve Dalton, with a minor divergence. 

Leo on his way to the Oscars | Image via Sony Pictures

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Is About The Ups And Downs Of An Aging Actor

With many converging sub plots, Booth’s storyline is probably the most interesting of Once Upon A Time In Hollwyood. He’s one of the very few fictional characters, in a movie that is very much based on real events, real people during a very real-time in America. The other storylines are less so, but that’s mostly because I wasn’t as aware of their real-life significance during the movie itself. 

The most high profile storyline is that of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), a real-life Hollywood actor who was tragically murdered by members of the Manson Family. The real-life incident that rocked America to the core, and produced a mass murderer in the form of Charles Manson. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood doesn’t really deal with that too much, except from a weird side angle lens that ties into the main story. 

The sweetest thing in a Tarantino movie | Image via Sony Pictures

Given that it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is pretty wild. The culmination of events in the climax is the adrenaline-fuelled ride of extreme thrills. But beyond that, it’s mostly the chemistry of Pitt and DiCaprio, in performances that grip you to your seat, that makes up the reason to watch this movie. 

So Many Wasted Cameos In Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

There’s a lot of cameos, by a lot of other stars, but they’re all sort of pointless? Al Pacino plays some sort of a Producer in two scenes who sings Dalton’s praises. Damian Lewis from Homeland shows up as the famous movie star Steve McQueen. Emile Hirsch plays a pretty significant supporting role as Tate’s ex. Timothy Olyphant appears as James Stacy, a supposed contemporary of Dalton’s. The late Luke Perry even gets a scene with a few lines as another actor in a Western TV show. And oh so many more. 

Why was he here? | Image via Sony Pictures

I feel these cameos would have had more impact on me if I knew all the real-life people that the cameos were playing. So much of it was a wink and a nod to audiences already aware of what’s happening. For the rest of us, it’s the same look of bewilderment when a stranger is waving at you, and you wave back, only to realize they were waving at the person standing behind you. 

The Performances Are Absolutely Stunning

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has the usual Tarantino flair, superb direction, and dialogue that sucks you in. Tarantino’s writing has a certain allure that makes you not take your eyes off the screen, no matter how mundane the conversation, or how dull the topic. And the pay off is usually worth it. 

DiCaprio is his perfect self. I’m enjoying that as he gets older, his performances get more and more outrageous, in the best possible way. And his performance in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is as strong as it’s ever been. But it’s nothing that we haven’t already seen from DiCaprio in movies like Wolf Of Wall Street or Django Unchained. And I’m not sure how deserving he is of that Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar nomination to be completely honest. 

Brad Pitt Deserves Awards For Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Pitt, on the other hand, is brilliant. His role in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is unlike any other role we’ve already seen him play. Pitt’s Booth is cool suave, brutally violent and carries the weight of a past that is only briefly alluded to. The climax of the movie works that much more because it’s Brad Pitt in a bat-shit crazy situation, that is a joy to watch. And rewatch. Which I shamelessly can admit to having done multiple times. 

Ageless Pitt | Image via Sony Pictures

Robbie is great as Tate, although, again, nothing we haven’t seen from her before. Tarantino sort of sidelines the character, so the audience spends more time with her doing things than we see her actually interacting with anyone else. Which is a shame. But Tarantino’s justification for it somewhat makes sense, given that it’s a character archetype he’s never shown in any of his films. 

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is definitely a fun watch. It’s got action, humor, drama, ridiculous situations and outrageous performances. Staples of a Tarantino movie to be honest. It falls flat a little when it comes to the story that’s very inside baseball when it comes to Hollywood’s history. But everything else in the movie more than makes up for it.

And while it’s a great watch for Tarantino fans, it just doesn’t feel like it’s deserving of its many Oscar nominations, especially given the other contenders in the race. And it’s definitely not the best Tarantino movie.

Once A Upon A Time is now available on home video. 

Do you think Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is deserving of all its acclaim? Let me know below, or on Twitter @theshahshahid.


Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad

1 Comment

Theatre Etiquette: The Do's And Don'ts Of Going To The Movies · January 29, 2020 at 12:18 PM

[…] RELATED: Is Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Accessible To General Audiences?  […]

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