REVIEW: Tarantino’s fantasy version of ‘Hollywood’ is mostly worth checking out

The year 2016 brought audiences films like “La La Land,” “Hail, Caesar,” and “The Nice Guys,” featuring stories ranging from crime to comedy to drama in Los Angeles. Perhaps Director Quentin Tarantino was inspired by that year in film, because his latest feature “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” contains all three.

The movie primarily follows two fictional characters working in the Los Angeles area. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an actor known for his work in western TV and a few action B-movies. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), meanwhile, is his stunt double and best friend. Unfortunately for Rick, he’s not in high demand anymore and finds himself doing smaller roles, often portraying the villain of the week.

Rick still lives in a nice house, though, and his neighbor just so happens to be Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). As Rick’s career has been on a decline, Tate meanwhile has a career taking off in the year 1969. With all of this going on, there’s a third element lingering in the background, the Manson Family cult taking up residence in LA.

In classic Tarantino fashion, “In Hollywood” has several plot threads going on, with all of them converging in the finale. While they all do come together eventually, it does take a while to get there. Plus, the story threads feel a little incoherent and disjointed at times.

The picture runs at nearly two hours and 45 minutes and there are points where that length is noticeable. Upon a second viewing, there are certainly some areas where the movie could have been trimmed.

The story told also seems to be a bit more shallow than some of Tarantino’s other pictures, such as “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained.” There isn’t as much beneath the surface here, unfortunately. Concepts are certainly on display, such as communes and stardom, but one wishes they cut deeper.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star in “Once Upon a Time.” Courtesy Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures

That’s not to say there’s nothing here, though. The contrast between the careers of Tate and Dalton is compelling, especially during one segment where Tate is watching herself in a new big movie, while Dalton is acting in his latest gig. All at once there’s the joy for Tate and the empathy for Dalton.

It’s a relatable moment, showcasing how it feels when a person reaches a new achievement, and also when maybe someone begin to miss a step or fall behind. This is one of the major highlights of the picture.

The other highlight of the flick comes in the movie’s climax, which is over-the-top and entertaining in Tarantino’s style. The finale is very reminiscent of the climax in “Inglorious Basterds,” as it’s violent and quite satisfying.

Also satisfying in “Hollywood” are the lead performances from DiCaprio and Pitt. DiCaprio is fantastic portraying the actor who’s starting to become concerned over seemingly being obsolete.

Pitt, meanwhile, is masterful as the smooth talking, confident Cliff. The character seems to have a sort of arrogance in how content he is with his life and Pitt captures this with a charismatic performance.

In terms of characters, the one who’s sadly hit and miss, though, is Tate. First and foremost, it can be said that Robbie is phenomenal in the role. The Oscar nominee brings a feeling of hopefulness to the character, showcasing Tate’s excitement over having a future on the big screen.

The issue, though, is Robbie’s Tate isn’t given as much to do. As previously stated there’s a part where Tate watches her own movie at a theater and Robbie’s portrayal shows genuine elation. It’s a good moment. However, in terms of sequences heavy in dialogue, Tate is lacking, which is a shame considering how good of a writer Tarantino has proven to be.

On a technical level, the picture looks and sounds great, as expected. Tarantino and three-time Academy Award winning cinematographer Robert Richardson, along with the rest of the crew who worked on the sets and sound, did fantastic work here. Late 60s LA was brought to life convincingly. There was a great soundtrack and some very nice looking shots, all setting the mood well.

Overall “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is an entertaining film with some witty and clever moments. The movie is also powered by some really solid performance and as a whole, is a well crafted product.

At the same time, though, the picture suffers from being too long, a bit too in-coherent at times and doesn’t do enough with a character played by a wonderful actress. 3.75 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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