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‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is worth seeing, but not Tarantino’s best

Image from IMDb
Image from IMDb

As an avid Quentin Tarantino fan who hadn’t gotten anything new from  him in about four years, I was naturally very excited when I saw  trailers popping up for his new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  The film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a 1960s Hollywood  actor and stunt double duo, seemed to promise a very different, more  intimately emotional type of movie than is typical of Tarantino. In that  aspect, it delivered.

On the other hand, less than a day after its release, critics were  heralding the film as “Tarantino’s masterpiece” and claiming it to be  his best work to date. Having seen most of Tarantino’s films (including  this one, of course), I can say with a good deal of certainty that at  least to the typical Tarantino fan, this is not his best film. However,  it’s by no means a bad film, and certainly worth seeing.

Tarantino in a new realm

Image from IMDb

What makes this film most interesting is seeing how Tarantino works  with stepping away from the action and going into a more straightforward  dramedy. He does a fantastic job of keeping his style and transitioning  it to a new genre rather than trying to start over and erase his  personal touch completely. Thus, many of the stylistic elements  Tarantino has become known for are still present, most notably his habit  of changing history (a la Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained)  and his gory violence (although, in this case, most of the violence is  saved for the end of the film, which actually makes it all the more  shocking, humorous, and ultimately satisfying).

However, one element that most of Tarantino’s films that felt  blatantly diminished and even absent throughout much of this film is his  masterfully stylized dialogue. Like most fans, I have come to expect  dialogue that is naturalistic, yet rhythmic and witty. However, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood  really did not meet my expectations for that; much of the dialogue  didn’t really feel like Tarantino’s writing. There were, of course, a  couple of scenes that proved to be exceptions (for example, in the very  end when Rick Dalton is talking to Jay Sebring in his driveway), but on  the whole, the dialogue was rather disappointing stylistically.

Pacing problems

One of the most notable issues with this film was definitely that the  pacing seemed to drag, which is particularly detrimental for a film  that already stands at run-time of two hours and 45 minutes. These  issues with pacing seemed to stem from the fact that Tarantino was  essentially presenting three separate storylines, and every time that  one would start to pick up in pace, the film would switch to another and  the pacing would slow right back down again. It was also hard to keep  consistent with so much going on. Every time the storyline would switch,  the viewer would have to consciously take a moment to switch their  brain over, which naturally created a lull in the pacing every time it  happened (which was a lot, because again, there were three separate  storylines).

Welcome to the Sixties

Image from IMDb

While I haven’t been entirely complementary of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood  thus far, I want to make it clear that this is not a bad movie by any  means. One thing Tarantino really could not have done any better is to  capture the feel of the Sixties and really transport the viewer there.  The commercials and ads, from the Bounty Law opening to the post-credits Red Apple  cigarette commercial perfectly fit the time period and put the audience  in the mental space of old-school Hollywood. Additionally, portrayals  of real historical Hollywood figures like Steven McQueen (Damian Lewis),  Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), and of course, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie)  provide extra historical context for the viewer. Pair that with an  absolutely perfect Sixties soundtrack that features recognizable tunes  and less recognizable ones that still fit the period and atmosphere, and  you’ve got a world that truly transports the viewer.

Of course, once the viewer is in the world of the film, it is the job  of the actors to keep them there by delivering believable, true-to-life  performances, and boy, do they ever. DiCaprio and Pitt (Cliff Booth)  are phenomenal together, and their scenes were truly the glue that bound  the multi-plotline story together. It’s a shame they didn’t have more  screen time together, as their scenes were some of the most memorable  and I constantly looked forward to the next time they’d be on screen  together.

I want to especially highlight DiCaprio’s performance; although his  character is not the most likable, he makes you truly feel the humanity  and the struggle of what he was going through to the point of actively  sympathizing with his character. Child actress Julia Butters (Trudi)  absolutely nails her role and is just the right combination of adorable  and opinionated to play perfectly off of DiCaprio.

Image from IMDb

I was a little disappointed in Margot Robbie’s performance, not  because of anything she did, but because she was actually given so  little to do. Although she was one of the principal characters, she had  very little dialogue and mostly just smiled, danced, and sat around. I  can understand that because she was portraying a historical figure, the  filmmakers probably wanted to be careful with how they portrayed her,  but at the same time, if you feel you can’t properly represent someone,  you probably should not make them a lead character in your film.

Overall, this was a quality film from Tarantino and I am glad to see  him branching out. Sure, the interwovenness of plotlines was weak at  times, and there were some obvious flaws, but this was Tarantino’s love  letter to Hollywood and to the industry, and it serves that purpose and  is beautiful in the specific context of said purpose. However, that  being said, if you want the Tarantino experience, you’re much better off  going with Pulp Fiction or one of the Kill Bill movies.

Images: IMDb

Featured Image: IMDb

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