BlackNerdMagic’s review published on Letterboxd:
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood further solidifies the profile of Quentin Tarantino as one of the greatest filmmakers of this generation. A big expansive celebration to the old yesterdays of Hollywood complete with odes to famous actors, tv shows, drive-in theaters, and the reverence we have for a time when things were much simpler and grand. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt score high on the scoreboard with a couple of amazing performances as a couple of best friends looking to find a place in a film industry that looks for ready to move on without their contributions anymore. Hollywood is becoming a beacon for new stories that challenge and go against the old conventions; Rick and Cliff have to wonder if there is any space or area for them to continue to thrive and carry on their respective careers.
Leonardo and Brad's partnership is terrific; they play it so well it makes me wonder how great of friends they are in real life. Chemistry is seamless that provides the feeling of a long and soulful bromance complete with a dedication to one another in good or bad times. Leonardo conveys the unseen fear and doubt that most actors carry when they feel trapped in a career full of typecasting and unfulfilling roles that give them no shot to show their unique talent. Brad puts himself in strong contention for Best Supporting Actor during the upcoming awards season; he is the rocksteady presence that carries Rick past his doubts and insecurities, a stand up guy who is willing to do the right thing and onset back down from anything or anyone. A treasure trove of supporting performances from Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler, and Kurt Russell make for a well rounded cast that adds to this wild and ever changing universe in 1969 California. Margot Robbie represents a symbolic role as Sharon Tate; she doesn't have much to say and not any standout moments but I think that is the point of it all. Tarantino didn't want to paint her as just being known for being a infamous murder victim; she was a human who did the same mundane things day in and day out that we do, I think a lot of her humanity gets lost in the cycle of constant documentaries and news specials that tend to show her as the most famous face of the Manson Family Murders. She is memorialize as a human first and her careers as an actress that was ready to bloom.
Special recognition goes to Mike Moh for his brief but unforgettable recreation of the famous icon Bruce Lee; he walked, talked, and carried himself in the same unique cloth of the famous Hong Kong-American actor. The main catalyst behind my favorite scene in the film which is his interaction with Cliff Booth.
Production design has always been a strong suit of any film Tarantino brings to the screen and this one is no different. From the colorful clothes, vintage cars, the different episodes and clips from shows and films of the era, the streets filled with hippies and film posters; we are transplanted right into the center of a historic time. Impressive attention to detail in which you can see the deep research and respect; there is a love and passion that radiates in every set piece that is beautiful to watch. Robert Richardson's cinematography shines brightest when the sun in creating wonderful imagery that makes it feel that you are taking a vacation to Los Angeles as an audience member. Tarantino shows precise and superior control in his direction; one of his best forays in using the camera to transversals this wide universe of characters, locales, and monuments of cinema's past. Sound design and editing are put to great use with the backing of a great soundtrack full of 60's rock and pop classics.
Tarantino's storytelling gives out nuggets that really puts a smile to the face of any person who knows the history of Hollywood during this time and even true crime aficionados who have followed the Manson Family's genesis and ultimately infamous place in history. Plenty of tributes to famous figures, television serials, hippies, counterculture movement, the trial and error of the film industry, and ultimately friendship. This is the funniest film that Tarantino has ever put to sheets of paper; it was hard to keep from laughing in each scene with the great comedic timing and dialogue coming from the mouth of characters. The usual method of narrative pacing is divulged into a slow burn and general ease that has you exposed to different sectors of the entertainment industry; no revenge tales or Spaghetti Westerns present for this story. It acts a time capsule showing you the arcs and narratives of people trying to find their footing and looking to make an indelible mark on the era of peace and happiness. All of the build up and constant frays into these diverging narratives pay off into an ultimate crowd pleasing ending that feels earned and reason to stand up and cheer.
High regards for QT not going down the road of having the Manson family being the focal point of this universe. You are aware of their presence as they linger in the background as a dark cloud ready to rain on the tranquility of the story at any moment but yet it feels incorporation to the best ability. Most other directors would have put them front and center which would have derailed the great display of partnership of Rick and Cliff and the beautiful memorial to Sharon Tate. Gladly Tarantino shuns that cliche which was my biggest fear when the first announcement of this film came two years ago.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood represents the best of what Tarantino can offer when it comes to crafting a story not centered on vengeance or a world filled with the threat of violence coming around the corner. An expression of the love of a time when the craft of being an actor had a special sense of nobility and dedication. When the film and television industry was transitioning to new frontiers and how two friends who have been through it all continues to fight for a seat at the table of relevance. Masterfully written and directed, this is one of the best films of the year and will have a top place in the filmography of Quentin Tarantino.