Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★★

The power of nostalgia is often a potent mirage, blending youthful ambitions, emotions, and memories to create a mental oasis in times of strife. It is not uncommon to wander lonely corridors of one's childhood in search of times when "things were better". Quentin Tarantino's latest masterwork, One Upon a Time...In Hollywood understands these lingering truths, and presents not only the ultimate tribute to the golden years of the studio machine, but also a sobering acknowledgement of that age's death.

The film has a near mythological quality, where mere mortals such as Leonardo DiCaprio's Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth walk the sun soaked streets among gods and monsters from Tinsel Town's past. Manson, McQueen, Polanksi, and even Sharon Tate are entities viewed at arm's length, totemic representations of the light and dark that combined to create the greatest form of artistic entertainment in the history of mankind. Margot Robbie's (hopefully) Oscar worthy turn as Tate is perhaps the best example. Each of her scenes are carefully constructed, weaving an almost dreamlike tapestry of light and music around Robbie as she dances with friends and sneaks into a showing of her own film. Robbie's embodiment is the human element of Tarantino's opera, and it is through her commanding performance that the audience remains grounded and emotionally invested.

DiCaprio delivers another career high turn as Dalton. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this role is how DiCaprio inspires a sense of pity for him. There are endless films about the perils of addiction and self-destructive superstars, and yet DiCaprio approaches the material with an almost childlike sense of awe and this blends with Tarantino's universe, a place where personal demons can be vanquished and everyone loves a comeback. This is juxtaposed with his scenes with Pitt's fantastic wingman, Booth. While it is undeniable that this the master of homages’ opus, there's also a somber note of letting go of the past and moving on that is central to Pitt's performance. A masculine, but not macho stuntman with a dubious past who moves through life facing off against cultists and questionable memories is also yet another part of the human experience. If Robbie is the soul and DiCaprio is the body, Pitt is the heart.

Robert Richardson's cinematography is simply outstanding. Every scene in the heart of LA has an elegiac quality, simulating Tarantino's rose-tinted memories, while the scenes at Manson's ranch bloom with reds and browns, predicting things to come. Everything is housed within Richard Johnson's vintage art direction, managing to transport the audience to the time and place with a genuine appreciation for the past. The final piece is the carefully curated soundtrack, featuring a plethora of classic songs from the time period. One of the more intriguing aspects of the soundtrack is that many of the choices are not traditional for the late '60s. This dovetails with Tarantino's obscure exploration of the end of the Hollywood of America's youth. They are songs that you've heard, but don't know who sings them unless you were actually there or are an avid song lover.

Now playing in theaters and heading towards awards season, Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood is a triumph and Tarantino's greatest film. Eschewing his more notorious talents and opting for a more mature, heartbreaking story one is reminded of Jackie's Brown's impact and its odd place within his filmography. While there are spurts of the director's patented violence, for the most part, Hollywood is a mood piece, a ray of sunshine on an overcast day that reminds us why we fell in love with pictures in the first place. Featuring a trifecta of solid performances and an unexpected (but welcomed) amount of directorial restraint, this is not only one of the best films of the year, but of the decade.

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