Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film (due to his counting Kill Bill vol. 1 and vol. 2 as one film). The talent and charisma of the star-studded cast is prevalent in every scene throughout the film. The film focuses on the friendship between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, with the narrative also drawing in on Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate occasionally. The cast is vast and there are many cameos from different actors that have worked with Tarantino before or that are iconic in the genre or era that they represent.
The main portion of the film presents itself as a slow burn character piece which affords the viewer an insight into the protagonists’ lives – Rick’s misery in becoming a “has-been” and Cliff’s comical and unruffled assured sense of self. Set in 1969, a pivotal turn in Hollywood, Once Upon a Time really submerges the viewer into this time period with beautiful attention to detail with set designs and wardrobe. The film is rich with this aesthetic and feels rooted in the era. Sometimes this made the film feel less accessible, in the sense that a certain younger demographic may be less familiar with some of the 60s films and actors that were being mentioned. For me this did take away some of my enjoyment, purely because I did not understand certain dialogue and what this indicated.
The film is 2 hours and 41 minutes and personally the film did drag out a bit (I found it to be an easier watch on my second viewing). It certainly is in no rush to do anything, as we follow Dalton and Booth and their lives over the course of a couple of days, with no real motivation or purpose driving the narrative forward. The pacing is slow for most of the film but picks up immensely in the last thirty minutes. The film jumps forward, and the pacing of the film alters as the voice over and editing makes the scenes more choppy and rapid. The last portion of the film delivers the much-anticipated Tarantino violence and feels like an explosion of action in comparison to what comes before. But while the pacing and tone of the ending changes, it feels earned, as the film has allowed us to forge a connection with the main characters, so that we are more invested in the action.
Without delving too deep into the storyline of the film, Tarantino does throw some surprises into the mix, while still adhering to his usual tropes. There is violence, blood, gore and other things you come to expect from a Tarantino film, (note the excessive amount of foot shots). I enjoyed the attention the film gives to filmmaking and the production process, not only through analysing Rick Dalton’s struggles as an actor, but also showing other aspects from costumes, sets and camera operation and placement.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino in his element, showcasing his passion and love for cinema and films from this period. The film stands out from Tarantino’s other work in its structure and subtlety. Being a cinephile with knowledge of Hollywood during this time would make the film a more enjoyable watch, but for me the film still retained its charm and intensity despite my not knowing much about the period.