Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

Once upon a Time in Hollywood might be Quentin Tarantino's strangest film. It's certainly the first that's properly stumped me as to how to respond to it. Consider this three-and-a-half-star rating provisional, therefore.

Taking place in 1969, the plot is his least eventful, homing in on the minutiae of its characters' lives and following them in their routines. One of these characters is Rick Dalton, a fading actor best known for a past role in a 1950s Western TV show and currently at a crossroads in his career: should he continue to flounder as a guest star on various pilots or jet out to Italy to star in Spaghetti Westerns? Another character is Cliff Booth, Rick's longtime stunt double and best friend who inadvertently gets involved with a group of hippies led by one Charles Manson; a further character is Sharon Tate, the rising starlet married to director Roman Polanski who was best known for getting killed by Manson's cult.

Rick and Cliff are played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, respectively, and they share a chemistry that gives their scenes together an undeniable spark. As Tate, Margot Robbie is ethereal and affecting, the latter particularly in a scene where she goes to the cinema and watches herself in The Wrecking Crew. Of course, the lack of plot can be explained by the fact that Tarantino is using the premise largely as a means of both drooling over the Los Angeles zeitgeist of the era (Old vs New Hollywood, establishment vs hippies) and showing off how much he knows about this kind of thing. With this in mind, it does make for a rather repetitive experience and one that feels oddly detached and faintly tired. Then the violence hits, and it is spectacular in a way that only Tarantino is capable of making it.

None of Tarantino's films say anything about the world, but that doesn't prevent them from being worthwhile. If I'm honest, though, he leans too heavily here on congratulating himself on how clever he is, and it's lucky that his doing this doesn't come at the expense of the performances or characters.

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