Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★

While this is a distinct tonal improvement from the mean-spiritedness of The Hateful Eight, there's a languid and occasionally sloppy quality to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that upholds Tarantino's commitment to retiring at ten films as a wise decision.

Several members of the film's ensemble cast are fun to watch but have thin roles. The film's 161-minute running time has no totally worthless scenes but feels disconcertingly loose and airy -- even exciting scenes feel like they should crackle with more dramatic or comedic energy.

DiCaprio stands out as Rick Dalton, a former leading man slumming it in villainous guest spots on TV, trying to find the fire that once made him a star. In some of his recent roles, DiCaprio has come off like he views effort and sincerity interchangeably, but here he shines in smaller, non-showboaty moments, exuding a moving low-key melancholy. Brad Pitt is also good as his best friend and driver/stunt double Cliff Booth, although one detail about his character complicates his role with no evident payoff or meaning.

The big question mark for many has been Tarantino's use of Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. In terms of respect for her, he's easily absolved, even if the nature of her character's role in the ensemble will likely prompt plenty of debate about how a character serves a film when the character is also serving a person, and how a filmmaker chooses to use that person to serve the film.

That said, I had reservations about his handling of other characters and scenes drawn from real life. His overall ambition and the film's wistful, heartfelt, and even optimistic tone is admirable from a filmmaker who rarely goes for those notes, especially after the acidic cynicism of his last film. Still, some of that creeps in here, sensibly aimed but garishly executed. Tarantino is smart enough to avoid being a cranky old man -- Once Upon a Time openly embraces the metaphorical future -- but the film's route to that sense of hope leaves something to be desired.

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