#SheWatches Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

August 20, 2019

Writing a review about a Tarantino film without giving away what happens is difficult but it’s necessary because you need to see this film fresh and see where it takes you.

This is Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film as a director and it’s probably his most accessible, boasting a stellar cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and our own Margot Robbie, plus cameo performances from Kurt Russell, Al Pacino, Bruce Dern and Dakota Fanning. 

Already, this tale of how Hollywood changed in the late 60’s is going gang busters at the box office and looks set to bring in around the $400 million mark, with the potential to become Tarantino’s highest-grossing movie ever.

Brilliant performances all round

It’s well known that Tarantino brings out the best in his actors and this film is no exception. Leonardo DiCaprio surpasses himself with a performance so real, it’s mesmerising. DiCaprio plays a Hollywood star called Rick Dalton who used to play the lead in in his own TV series but then decides it’s time he went into movies and this proves more difficult than he thought. 

Brad Pitt plays Rick’s stunt double (Cliff Booth) but when things get tough, he ends up working as Rick’s driver and assistant. Pitt also excels, playing his role with a sharpness and intelligence that’s palpable. At 55, Pitt’s looking good and is still able to cope with his obligatory ‘shirts off’ scene. But his character is more complex than you’d think for a Hollywood stunt double. Sure, he’s not a good person to pick a score with and this is obvious after a scene with Booth and Bruce Lee (played so well by Mike Moh). 

But in other parts of the film where Booth interacts with a group of weird hippies who notoriously live on the Spahn Ranch (supposedly with Charles Manson but we don’t engage with him), Booth shows himself to be a more complex and intuitive character.  

Margot Robbie is ‘luminous’

People have said Margot Robbie is ‘luminous’ in this film – and she is. Working with Tarantino literally was a dream come true for her. She reportedly sent a letter to Tarantino years ago, letting him know she loved his films and would love to “see him work” one day. Tarantino got in touch with her, saying he had her in mind for the role of Sharon Tate in this film, but this was years ago, in the very early stages of the film’s planning.

Tarantino has been quoted as saying Robbie was his “only” choice for Tate’s role because she has “the dynamic visual and personality quality of a ‘60s ‘It Girl’ and is also a terrific actress who could hold her weight in this triangle with two of the biggest stars of their generation.” 

Robbie looks thrilled to be part of the Tarantino project and in her scenes, you can’t take your eyes off her as she dances at Hollywood parties. But Tarantino has been criticised for not giving her character many lines and yes, this is noticeable. 

At times, if you aren’t aware of the full story of Sharon Tate and the Manson murders, you could be scratching your head trying to work out exactly why Sharon Tate is in the film at all. If we’d been able to get to know her better, perhaps we would have understood her role better and she would have meant more to us.

Does it pack a punch?

The storyline of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does lack cohesiveness. Some have accused Tarantino of indulging in his film making style so strongly, he’s ended up losing sight of his role as the story teller and there is definitely some truth to this.

As far as Tarantino’s direction goes, the results he achieves are superb. While watching the film, and for some time afterwards, you feel like you’re back in 1969 – where no-one wears a seat belt, most people smoke and drink excessively and everyone sits at home at night, mesmerised by tiny television screens.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could have been far more hard-hitting if it was bound together by a stronger story line and if Sharon Tate’s role had been explored more. We need this if we’re to understand the film’s ending – otherwise it’s all a bit too random and unexplained.

So this is an enjoyable film if you want to take a trip down memory lane. But there are two warnings we need to leave you with. Firstly, don’t try and catch this film in your lunch break – it’s two hours and 41 minutes long!  And secondly – don’t let the cast of Hollywood royalty and the fact Tarantino is in his fifties fool you. He hasn’t mellowed with age – this film is pure Tarantino.

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