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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (dir. Tarantino)

Image: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Al Pacino © Property of Sony Pictures Entertainment [Source: IMDB]

★★★★★

A faded television star and his stunt double try to achieve fame and success in the backlots of the final Golden Age years of 1969 Hollywood.

Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell [18]

Did Tarantino just sneak his comedy into his filmography without telling us? Yes. Yes, I think he just did. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a Tarantino love letter that might just be his best picture since Pulp Fiction.

What stands out most of all from Tarantino’s 9th feature film is how funny it is. As in through and through comedy funny. There is no doubt in my mind that this is his comedy with a little bit of drama in there for good measure. In its comedic tone, it’s akin to the Big Lebowski. Perhaps not so much in cultural significance but in the same laid back attitude. For great lengths of the film, it can seem like a couple of people hanging around together and just breathing the air. So much so that it almost felt for a brief moment or two that you aren’t quite sure what is actually happening or what it is this is building towards.

But those few moments only come far between as Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are stunningly immersive and brimming each scene with raw tenacity. They bring the real drive and electric energy and performative charisma to each and every frame that you just sit back and enjoy the ride. But when those few moments do arrive of questioning what is actually happening, you’re met with Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Granted the thread you are given of some kind of tension or drama starts very thin. General scenes of Sharon Tate simply existing and the implications of threat from the Manson Family. Then it snowballs. It snowballs sensationally. In true Hitchcockian fashion, Tarantino right from the get-go – “1969, Hollywood” shows us the ticking bomb that is Sharon Tate and Manson. And its slowly been ticking away all movie long while we get to see Tarantino passionately display all his adorations with Hollywood and the cinemascape of old in a captivating love letter.

But the movie is far more than laid back comedy and ticking bomb drama of Manson. Tarantino displaying his love letter to old Hollywood and it’s golden years. Actually captures so much of Hollywood in it’s three “main” characters. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Sharon Tate. Each demonstrating; the talent/ego, the charisma and the spirit respectively, of Hollywood. As well as one of the most violent things associated with Hollywood – Manson. I’m sure there is a lot to unpack about this element and how it links to Tarantino’s body of work. Especially given that this was one of the only films I’ve ever actually acknowledging felt catharsis in the violence. But those are conversations for essayists and over cocktails with friends.

Tarantino delivers one of his most daring pictures, as close to Jackie Brown as his films have come since. In its lack of fast blood pumping tension riveting each and every scene. This feels more, well, classical. I mostly acknowledge Tarantino fighting against the idea of genre films being the things to sell these days. And instead acknowledging star value but more importantly, character actors that have, are and still overlooked in Hollywood. It’s a testament to acting talent, power and value both in its narrative and demonstrated through its own performances as Hollywood increasingly steers away from the DiCaprios, Pitts, Robbies and Bruce Lees of this world. Instead launching Marvel cinematic universes as well as the Disney mega-corporate recycling wheel, churning out the same movie with a facelift over and over again. Even animated films becoming more popular and successful and stardom fading into the past more and more. Tarantino shows his independent filmmaking roots and holds a bloody fist up to new Hollywood – championing cinema.

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