In the picture

January 26, 2020

As the race for the Oscars heats up, Instep takes a look at one of the award season’s biggest contenders.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood****1/2

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino

Directed by Quentin Tarantino 

Quentin Tarantino revisits Hollywood’s past while rewriting history in his latest project, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, a comedy drama that takes an alternative route down the Tinsel town memory lane.

The movie is built around real people and moments but focuses on two (mostly) fictional characters – actor Rick Dalton (a terrific Leonardo DiCaprio) and his long-time stunt double Cliff Booth (a standout Brad Pitt) – as they navigate their way through 1960s Hollywood.

Dalton, a veteran of Westerns, fears that his star is fading, while Booth, too, is struggling, partially because a rumour that he murdered his wife has left him unable to find work. Stuck playing the villain in episodes of television series, Dalton muses that he might be able to revive his declining acting career if he can befriend his new neighbours, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband, director Roman Polanski (Rafa Zawierucha). Booth, meanwhile, gets acquainted with a group of hippies who turn out to be the Manson Family.

Packed with a plethora of references to ‘60s Hollywood guaranteed to leave movie enthusiasts giddy, the film wonderfully captures the era of its setting and cleverly links different people before arriving at an unexpected (and divisive) ending; the last half an hour or so of this 160-minute-long tale is also its most entertaining. To enjoy it fully though, it is essential that you have some knowledge about the setting as well as Charles Manson and Sharon Tate.

But some of its elements and characters don’t feel entirely essential, especially those that seem to fall by the wayside as the movie passes them by. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood presents Tarantino as a filmmaker who is passionate about his subject and has lots of interesting things to say, but instead of whittling down his ideas into a solid storyline, he enthusiastically mashes them all together. The result comes off not so much as masterful storytelling but as a series of vaguely connected scenes often left searching for a purpose. These scenes certainly are impressively made – some are even instantly iconic – but as soon as the storyline starts to meander, the more self-indulgent choices of the project start to become more apparent.

It isn’t hard to see why the film is doing so well at the awards. The acting by Di Caprio and Pitt is absolutely wonderful; the latter in particular is excellent. The extended ensemble cast includes (often too brief) appearances by the likes of Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Damian Lewis, and Timothy Olyphant as well as child actress Julia Butters who shines in her part. The ambience is spot-on. And Hollywood is quite fond of movies about itself after all. But this quirky comedy drama also feels a little uneven. Still, this imperfect Hollywood fairy tale is largely enjoyable with many memorable elements and is ultimately essential viewing for movie fans.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
*** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

Can 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' bag an Oscar?