For decades now, a new Quentin Tarantino film has been a real event in Hollywood. Once every few years, the movie world goes nuts over the cult director’s latest offering, wondering just what he’ll bring to the table this time around.
Because Tarantino’s ninth film is all about Tinseltown during a time of great change. The industry buzz has been particularly palpable this time around. The question is, how does Once Upon a Time in Hollywood measure up against the director’s previous work?
Set in 1969, the movie takes place around the time of the Manson Family Murders. But Charles Manson and his followers aren’t the main focus here. The viewer experiences ’60s Los Angeles via struggling movie star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his laid back stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick and Cliff’s path eventually crosses with that of the “Manson girls,” culminating in a typically Tarantino finale.
When the film premiered at Cannes in 2019 (25 years to the day after Tarantino debuted Palme d’Or winner Pulp Fiction). The director urged those in attendance not to spoil the ending, and — for the most part — the critics have honored that. It’s not hard to read between the lines. However, and it’s already becoming clear that certain parts of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are going to split the public opinion. Here’s what the critics have been saying about it.
Tarantino shows his affectionate side
Tarantino spent much of his childhood in and around Los Angeles county, and he shows his love for that time period in a big way with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. “If you didn’t know already, Tarantino loves Hollywood. Which is why this film is the ultimate love letter from him,” Collider’s Gregory Ellwood said. According to Time film critic Stephanie Zacharek, the director is “at his best when he’s motivated by affection,” and that ultimately shines though in his latest feature. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ranks among his finest. The serrated bitterness of his last picture, The Hateful Eight, has vanished,” Zacharek said in her review. “This is a tender, rapturous film, both joyous and melancholy, a reverie for a lost past and a door that opens to myriad imagined possibilities.”
Esquire’s Michael Hainey puts this slight mellowing of the director’s approach down to his age as much as anything else. “For the first time you see Tarantino. Perhaps because of where he is in his own life, a man in his fifties — bringing unexpected, deep, rich feelings to his film and to his characters,“. Hainey wrote in his glowing review of the ’60s-set character flick. “You see Tarantino risking real, complex, emotions for his characters.”
It’s full of golden era Easter eggs
Tarantino has always been partial to obscure pop culture references, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has more deep cuts than any of his films to date. According to The Guardian’s chief film critic Peter Bradshaw, however, you don’t have to get all of these golden era Easter eggs to enjoy the movie.
“There are woolly, rambunctious Jack Davis caricatures from MAD magazine, nods to blond dream girls like Joey Heatherton and Anne Francis. Allusions to the brutally electric spaghetti westerns of Sergio Corbucci,” Bradshaw wrote in his review. “But what you don’t recognize, you can Google; new worlds await. This is a welcoming picture, not an alienating one, an open door into a vanished world that still feels vital.”
Writing for The Wrap, columnist Steve Pond called Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. That is a “grand playground for its director to fetishize old pop culture,“. That highlighting the lengths Tarantino has gone in order to create his vision of ’60s Hollywood. “It’s filled with homages to (or outright re-creations of) old TV shows, old movies, old advertising jingles: Tarantino indulges in his obsessions. As he gets to direct all the stuff he loved as a kid,” Pond said. “He also gets to recreate the Hollywood of 1969 by tracking down just about every neon sign that still exists from that era. And re-dressing stretches of Hollywood Boulevard to look like the street of his memories.”
It’s not quite a masterpiece
In his Esquire review, Michael Hainey called Once Upon a Time in Hollywood a “Shakespearean masterpiece,“. But a lot of critics have refrained from using the “m” word. The hype meant that lots of people went into Tarantino’s ninth feature expecting it to be his magnum opus. But for many, it fell a little short. “Many of us were hoping to make use of Brad Pitt’s line at the end of Inglourious Basterds: ‘I think this just might be my masterpiece.’ In fact, the film is way too relaxed to reach those intoxicating heights,” the BBC’s Nicholas Barber wrote. “One character talks at length about a novel featuring a rodeo rider nicknamed ‘Easy Breezy.’ And, discounting two spurts of Tarantino’s signature gruesome violence, easy-breezy is exactly what Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is.”
Perhaps the most critical review came by way of Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, the Hollywood trade’s chief film critic. Gleiberman believes Tarantino hasn’t delivered an “unambiguously great” movie since 2009’s Inglourious Basterds. And he includes the director’s latest offering in that assessment. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is not that X Factor movie . Though for long stretches (a good more than half of it), it feels like it could be,” Gleiberman said. “It comes closer than Django Unchained or (God knows) The Hateful Eight. It’s a heady, engrossing, kaleidoscopic, spectacularly detailed nostalgic splatter collage of a film.”
Rating: R (for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
In Theaters: Jul 26, 2019 Wide
Runtime: 159 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures
The plot is a tapestry template that drops in characters like shining beads and watches the story weave slowly around them.
Don’t mistake me: This movie is good. It all depends on how hard you’re willing to work to justify its pleasures.
It feels like Tarantino is so wrapped up in indulging in his own filmmaking style that he loses sight of what made his best movies work.
I love this movie… When [director Quentin Tarantino] pulls the ripcord and it goes bananas, it is just so much fun.
Easily the most accessible Tarantino movie yet, Hollywood serves as a greatest hits album for the filmmaker and DiCaprio-Pitt pairing shines throughout.