Nicolò Grasso’s review published on Letterboxd:
Original Title: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Year of Release: 2019
Genres: Comedy; Historical Drama; Crime; Action; Western
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Main Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Damon Herriman, Lorenza Izzo
Using "Once Upon a Time" in the title of your film can be very deceiving. While some consider it to be a simple way to set a story in a past long gone, I have always seen it in its fairy tale sense: the time may be real, but the stories aren't. It is the nostalgia of the best kinds, fully embracing a fictional narrative on a realistic backdrop, giving free reign to the creators to run free with their ideas. Leone did it twice, with Once Upon a Time in the West and in America, films steeped in two of the most American genres possible (the western and the gangster flicks), yet seen through the eyes of someone who has lived them through legends of the silver screen and of books.
Tarantino already flirted with the idea of titling a film with "Once Upon a Time" in Inglorious Basterds, originally called "Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France", only to give that title to the opening chapter. On hindsight, that should have tipped everyone off that the film audiences were about to watch in 2009 was not an historical recount of the events of World War II, but an alternative history where Hitler was killed thanks to Nazi-hunting Jews and the burning power of celluloid.
Cut to a decade later, and you get Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. This is Tarantino's ultimate fairy tale, a love letter to cinema set in the City of Angels, at a time where the entire industry was changing. On one side you have Rick Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth, with the former being an aging TV actor who is trying to break into films yet always gets type-casted as the villain or ends up acting in B-movies; on the other side, you get Sharon Tate with her husband Roman Polanski, a personification of the New Hollywood.
Much has been said about this film since its release, plenty criticizing and complaining about some elements. What has raised the most passion for some movie-goers is Margot Robbie's relatively short screenpresence. However, the way Tarantino frames her is all but disrespectful, portraying her as a simple and angelic creature, loved by everyone and surrounded by blind light. She is Good, and knowing what has happened to her in real life makes seeing her... alive, on screen, living life, that much more tragic.
But the film itself is not a tragedy, but arguably QT's most comedic one. It plays as a sequence of vignette, a hang-out film where the enjoyment comes from seeing Dalton and Booth going around town, acting in films, going to dinner, watching serials on TV, and just talking with one another. The chemistry between DiCaprio and Pitt is nothing short of fantastic, each embodying their characters to perfection. While Pitt gets some of the coolest scenes of the film, DiCaprio is the one that is ridiculed the most, but up to a point. While seeing him get frustrated cause he cannot remember his lines is hilarious in itself, the performance is so committed to the role that what was first funny slowly becomes heartbreaking, all thanks to Leo's wonderful performance. The side cast also features a lot of famous actors, both old and new, but very few manage to get more than 4 minutes of screen-time, so be prepared.
The Hollywood of Tarantino is glossy and glamorous, but it never feels fake, courtesy of some terrific production design and gorgeous cinematography by Quentin's regular Robert Richardson. The songs are plentiful, as are the movie references and marquees, but they all feel organic in here, it is self-indulgence done right and more than justified.
What is going to make or break the film, though, is the ending. There is a cut to black before the final act that signals a change in tone to the film, becoming more overtly self-aware and bordering on being cartoonish. It may be jarring at first, and I understand why many are disliking or downright hating the way this film ends, but to me... it just worked. It is cathartic, unexpected, hilarious, and in the end highly tragic. Once we got to the final shot, I was a puddle of tears, shocked by how Tarantino managed to play me yet again, as he did so many other times.
But the clues to that ending were all there. After all, this is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Visual Effects: 9.5
Violence & Gore: 9
Sex & Nudity: 4
Drugs & Profanity: 7
Intensity & Horror: 5