jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
In his 27 year career as a filmmaker and writer (among wearing other hats in the industry), Quentin Tarantino has made several progressions in style and content - from his gritty style in the 90's, the action exploration of the 00's, and the controversial historical epics of the now - and yet, each of his (now) nine films has a single stream of similarity. That's confusing to think because "Reservoir Dogs" (his earliest work) and "The Hateful Eight" (Tarantino's previous film) couldn't be more different and everything in between manages to be its own unique smorgasbord of Cinema and homages. But that's the key in unlocking Tarantino: the homages of Cinema. It's not Tarantino's excessive use of blood or his love for violence and gore, it's not the snappy dialogue that's influenced many knock-offs and garnered him the most praise. It's not even the colorful band of eccentric and insane characters he writes for every film.
It's all with the homages. His narrative is the homages.
It can't be helped to think how beautiful "Once Upon a time ... in Hollywood" would've been if it were Tarantino's final feature film (the big 10 promise he keeps making shakes us at our cores everyday): this is a life's culmination, a film structured in the sense of Tarantino's style and love for Cinema, surrounded by the heart of American filmmaking at its most turbulent (both as an artform and as a time period, itself): this is a film about movies, plagued with copious amounts of homages. It seems so cleat to me that there couldn't be any other film shaped for Tarantino to send off with; "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" is the goal, the ultimate progression for Tarantino as an artist and as a person and yet, it's only his 9th feature, not the 10th it's shaped itself up to be.
At its front, "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" is a beautiful and loving tribute to the final stage of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as it struggles to breathe with the cultural wave of drugs, rebelling, political strife, and peace movement at its neck, not to mention the New Hollywood starting a mere two years before the film begins. It's not hard to see Tarantino's mist in his eyes when making this because this is a personal film for him, as he recreates the flashes of memories he has as a child strolling down the streets of Hollywood in his parent's car: the glittering lights, the nostalgic dedication (in terms of costumes and set pieces), the reimaging of television programs he watched, and the Cinema, the heart of the strip, as it beats along day and night, playing films that would change his life as a person. This is Tarantino wrapping a frame of film around his heart and pushing every ounce of memory and storytelling he can intertwine; his most ambitious and episodic film manages to be his most nostalgic and meaningful picture yet, completely contradictory to the rage-filled and tragic of his previous three works, "The Hateful Eight," "Django Unchained," and "Inglourious Basterds."
Is it all beauty? Among the flashing lights and warm and tender nostalgia, "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" is a bittersweet realization: change is imminent and the past can't survive in it. Tarantino introduces three characters as our mains: the aging Television star Rick Dalton, his trusty sidekick and stunt double Cliff Booth, and Sharon Tate, the bubbly, energetic, and beautiful star of several films made in the tail end of the 1960's, 1969 to be exact, where the film begins its journey. In many ways, Rick and the real life Sharon are the representative of Hollywood's changing time: Rick is the Golden Age, trying to maintain some sort of stability and reason, in a period that allows flexibility and imagination and innovation, while Sharon is the New Hollywood Wave of that flexibility, imagination, innovation, and exploration of cinematic themes and ideas. While Cliff Booth is just looking to keep some sort of familiarity, acts as the glue between them. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt give two of their best performances (and probably two of the best of the year so far) for the mere fact of their believability and worrisome uncertainty for what the future may hold. It's subtly that shines through them, their faces portray calmness and confidence, but the inner layer speaks a fear within them.
It's also bittersweet because of the beginning. A date, February something, 1969 appears on-screen and immediately, we know how Tarantino's going to end "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood:" August 9th, 1969, the day Sharon Tate is murdered. And as soon as the audience realizes this, Margot Robbie's performance becomes a beam of melancholy; it's not to say Robbie's performance treads some sort of acknowledging her fate or exploring a sad and intimate side to her: it's how perfectly executed it is. Robbie's Tate is happy, full of life, and energetic and to know, in a mere 6 months, this actress will have met her end at the hands of butchers and their devil. We're witnessing simple moments of Tate: jamming out with her friends at a party, walking down the strip to buy a book, watching a movie with her in it and hearing the crowd laugh at her (and that god damn smile that follows that knowing she's done her job as a performer). It's the sad fact that we know Sharon Tate's fate before she does.
People going into "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" know the end because it's history and history has cemented the night of August 9th into the textbooks of Hollywood discussion. But Tarantino doesn't let that stop him from unleashing one of his greatest finales in his entire filmography. This is Tarantino's world, a world that doesn't abide by any rules or structure and with "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood," it culminates her, in a fiery and tragic and melancholic finale of insanity and pure epic proportions that only Tarantino could've executed. I won't spoil the rest for you, but I leave you with this: this will have an impact so unprecedented that you'd think you went into some sort of coma or self-induced shock. To call this one of Tarantino's finest would be an understatement: this could very well be the most accomplished work he's ever made and in a filmography full of achievements, that's praise I cannot simply distribute easily.
In a filmography honoring Cinema, "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" is the only film about Cinema, and what a film it is.