Review: Take Caution Before Seeing “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore. The ninth film from the writer-director features a large ensemble cast and multiple storylines in a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Video Review

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Trailer:

The Good:

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood delivered many of the classic features of a typical Tarantino film. First off, the movie provides some pretty humorous to almost comical moments. Most of it will come from either the banter between the characters or you’ll notice it in some specific scenes. I think one of the funniest scenes that stands out the most would be the “Bruce Lee” scene. It was really enjoyable because much of the humor comes in an unexpected and over the top fashion. Besides the humor, you can count on this film to present a couple of suspenseful scenes. You’ll probably recognize this from “The Ranch” scene. That sequence of events was an ever building momentum of anxiety. The tension that followed was incredibly thick the further it progressed. Then we, of course, get some good old fashion, over the top graphic violence in typical Tarantino fashion. As previously mentioned, both the humor and suspense are also included in the extremely entertaining final action sequence. In my opinion, that final climactic scene was easily one of the best highlights of the whole movie.

Moving on, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood does a fantastic job of establishing a convincing 1960s and 70s overall setting. I was really impressed with how believable the film was where everything seemed to have incredible attention to detail in terms of the scenery. Whether it be the clothing, set design or even the soundtrack, all of it was done in a great way to really immerse you back into that world. I think an added benefit came through with cinematography that was done. There were some specific and unique camera shots and angles that really highlighted the setting. I think the benefit there is that the cinematography actually makes the background of Hollywood more of a character in itself.

Another positive for this film were the solid acting performances from the amazing cast. This film definitely boasts a number of well-known actors even if they’re in rather minor supporting roles. It goes without saying that Oscar Award winning actor, Leonardo DiCaprio delivered a high quality performance in his role. His performance was so captivating that you really do start to feel for him during his more dramatic and/or emotional scenes. Brad Pitt also provided an exceptional performance, although I’d say his role was very much in his comfort zone. It’s not much to ask Brad Pitt to play the charismatic and cool guy as a character. However, when he does, he does it well. I also thought that Margot Robbie delivered a solid performance despite the awkward amount of dialogue she was given to work with.

The Bad:

I think one of the bigger issues with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is that the storytelling seems to be chaotic. There are three primary stories being told, but sometimes those stories seem to take long extended journeys that either loosely tie to the end, or were a complete waste of time. We’ll have some scenes in the movie that, in my opinion, really don’t add much to the story, and instead are just inserted for fun. You’ll have other instances where we’re given a longer than needed scene for what ends up being a very small payoff. Without going into spoilers, there’s a point in the film that will appear to only be there just to show off the talent of the actor in the scene. However, in terms of the story, that same scene could’ve been communicated in a much more condensed fashion.

The other issue with the storytelling in this film is that it can get a bit confusing as to who or what should be focused on. One minute you think the story is about Leo’s character through Brad Pitt’s character. Then you may think it’s about the friendship between the two, or you’ll get the suspicion that this could be about Hollywood’s golden age. Then Margot Robbie’s character is thrown into the mix. By the end of the film, it felt like there wasn’t a proper balance given to the story arcs to really flesh anything out. It just came off as someone telling you a story, getting caught up with random tangent stories, and then quickly remembering to wrap it all up at the end.

Going back to an earlier point, we need to talk about Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. I find it really hard to defend that her character was handled properly in this film. If the intention was to communicate or to even educate unfamiliar audiences about who Sharon Tate was (even from Tarantino’s perspective) then that endeavor failed.  Due to her lack of significant dialogue in the movie, it was really hard to relate to her character or even get to know her. I suppose the only two things I could possibly take away from her inclusion to this story are 1) She’s an interesting contrast to the character of Rick Dalton or 2) Tarantino just wanted to include her to be the “pretty face” and satisfy his eerie foot fetish on film. Either way, despite Margot Robbie doing her role as best she could, and seeing as though Tate’s character appeared to be a co-equal to both Pitt and DiCaprio’s characters, I think Tarantino really missed the mark with her character. The only exception to this would be if you happen to already be familiar with Sharon Tate and her backstory, and thus you could mentally fill in the blanks to make this character work for you.

Lastly, while this may not be an issue for some, this film doesn’t feel like it has a wide enough appeal for audiences. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is described as a love letter to Hollywood in the 1960s. The movie does feel exactly like that, except the only problem is that the movie is open for the public to read this very specific letter. So unless you’re knowledgeable of the 1960s movie and TV references in the film, then a lot of connecting points will go over your head. At least, admittedly, that was the case for me. The film attempts to inform audiences about the culture of Hollywood in the 1960s, but instead it conflates it with the personal story of DiCaprio’s character. As a result, it made it difficult to differentiate between the nature of the Hollywood industry, or if this was just a result of DiCaprio’s character simply running into bad luck. Nevertheless, because there were so many references that were unfamiliar (to me anyway), it was hard to appreciate this film for what it was trying to do. So I will say to take this one criticism with a grain of salt, because if you are seriously knowledgeable about movies and TV, then this clearly won’t be an issue for you at all.

The Verdict:

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a huge serving of fan service for the purists of movie buffs and only the most hardcore of Tarantino fans. I totally understand how this film can and may get high praise from those really close to the movie industry. I believe this movie was made more so for that distinct audience. I also understand how the most dedicated fans of Tarantino might enjoy this film just because of the familiar beats that they’ve become familiar with and enjoy from his films. With full disclosure, I am a big Tarantino fan, and with that, I can’t say that this is one of his better works either. This movie accomplishes some great things when it comes to the technical work, and the acting, but the storytelling and writing just didn’t work for me. I also don’t think it will work for casual audience who may not be familiar with Tarantino’s work either. The highlighted moments in this film that really bring home the entertainment quality are few and far between. So a higher than usual level of patience would be required when trying to watch this movie. Unless you fancy yourself as a one of Tarantino’s die-hard fans or movie aficionados, I’d caution a matinee viewing at the very best.

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is in theaters now.  Be sure to follow E-Man’s Movie Reviews on Facebook, Subscribe on YouTube, or follow me on Twitter/IG @EmansReviews for even more movie news and reviews!

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  • 8/10
    Acting - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Cinematography - 8/10
  • 5/10
    Plot/Screenplay - 5/10
  • 8/10
    Setting/Theme - 8/10
  • 5/10
    Buyability - 5/10
  • 2/10
    Recyclability - 2/10
6/10

About Emmanuel "E-Man" Noisette

Emmanuel is a Chicago film critic who founded Eman's Movie Reviews. He freelances as a writer and video content creator for sites such as MovieTickets.com. Be sure to join the other 33K+ fans on his Facebook Fan Page for even more movie opinions and fun. Feel free to contact him with any professional inquiries: [email protected]