Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Ryan’s Movie Reviews #54

Hello and welcome to Ryan’s Movie Reviews!

In a sea of reboots, remakes, sequels, and prequels, it’s becoming difficult to find original movies that stay true to the art of film. Enter Quentin Tarantino, who’s been in the game for 27 years and has arguably mastered this talent. His films are so unique and iconic that the word ‘Tarantinoesque’ has been added to the Oxford Dictionary. It’s with this that anything he makes is almost guaranteed to be something different and legendary, and film fanatics from around the world are always excited when he announces a new project. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is no exception from this.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is the tenth film (ninth if you count the Kill Bills as one movie) to be written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Set in 1969, the film follows Rick Dalton, a TV actor and Cliff Booth, his stunt double. Rick finds himself down on his luck as the Hollywood he knows and loves is now changing and he’s on his way to becoming a has-been. It just so happens that his neighbour is one of the new actresses in Hollywood who’s on the up and up to becoming something big; Sharon Tate.

Rick Dalton was played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s already in early Oscar talk for his role. It’s obvious to see why, as DiCaprio delivers an amazing performance as Rick Dalton. DiCaprio playing an actor is great fun to watch, as you see Rick with a stutter, but then without one when he’s in a movie or TV show. One of the best scenes that demonstrates DiCaprio’s fantastic acting ability is when Rick is filming on Lancer and we see him switching between in real life (with the stutter) and his villainous character in Lancer, who speaks without a stutter and more of a stern voice. Whenever DiCaprio takes on a role, he fully immerses himself in it, and this allows the audience to take more of an interest in his character and the film; Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is no exception to this. As superb as Leonardo DiCaprio was, I couldn’t help but feel that Brad Pitt stole the show. Brad Pitt played Rick’s stunt double, Cliff Booth, a war veteran who’s somewhat frowned upon in the film industry for the alleged murder of his wife. Pitt maybe wasn’t the obvious choice to play Cliff Booth, but certainly was the perfect actor for the role. He was excellent as Cliff, bringing an edge to the character and making him one of the standout best parts of this movie. There has also been Oscar talk for Brad Pitt’s performance as Cliff Booth, and personally, I’d say he’s more deserving of the Oscar than DiCaprio. Brad brought a lovability to Cliff’s character which, despite the slow pacing of the film, stood out as an exceptional performance that helped to make the film better. Margot Robbie played Sharon Tate, and she was marvellous in the role, but there wasn’t much of her character, or at least as much as I was expecting from advertisements. The film mainly focused on Rick and Cliff and their relationship (which, I must say, was just shy of impeccable), but the lack of Sharon Tate and other characters did make the film suffer slightly.

The music, like in most of Tarantino’s films, was perfectly selected. It captured the essence of a defining era in Hollywood as well as adding to scenes, by either building tension or excitement, or by making the scenes more enjoyable to engage in.

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Cliff and Rick on the set of their Western TV show, ‘Bounty Law’

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Tarantino at his most playful. It’s not Tarantino’s most iconic or quotable film, but instead, the director proves that he has mastered the art of film-making. I’ll admit, at times it feels like the film is just the studio giving Tarantino money to make a movie because they know his name will bring them more money in return. While this certainly feels true for parts of the film, it’s more than this. It’s bringing together some of the best talents in Hollywood. It’s more than having Tarantino direct and write, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star. It’s having your cinematography from Robert Richardson (who also cinematographed for Hugo, Inglourious Basterds, and Shutter Island), and a talented Visual Effects department, including the likes of Brian Adler (who also did visual effects for Avengers: Endgame and Logan). With some of the talents of the industry coming together to produce a film like this, it’s evident to see that people really enjoy working on different, creative films within Hollywood and the end product is something undeniably awesome. 

I couldn’t do this review without talking about four memorable and standout scenes for me. The first was filming Lancer, with the interaction of resetting the cameras and breaking the fourth wall, then Rick breaking down before returning to set and delivering a tense and career-defining performance (for Rick). The way this whole scene was creatively crafted and fantastically executed, especially from Leonardo DiCaprio. I loved Cliff’s flashback to the Green Hornet set where he fought Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh, who did a great job). It was such a pleasure to watch, as the scene was made playful and fun by the camera work, and it was Tarantino at his pinnacle, as we’ve seen him in other films. The next scene was when Cliff revisited Spahn Ranch. In this scene and the previous (Cliff fights Bruce Lee), Brad Pitt was at his best, bringing an edge of hardness and badassery to Cliff’s character. From meeting Squeaky and George Spahn to beating up Clem, throughout this scene and the previous, Pitt certainly delivered one of his greatest performances ever in this film. The final scene should be fairly obvious, but I’m of course going to have to talk about that final scene with Rick and Cliff fighting the hippies who attacked Rick’s house. The song (Tarantino’s edit of ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On by Vanilla Fudge) was so perfect for the scene that it both added to my enjoyment and helped build tension and excitement. The action was the most Tarantinoesque imaginable. With heads smashed into telephone hooks, people being burnt to a crisp with a flamethrower and a dog tearing into limbs, I couldn’t help but smile in awe, realising again in this film that in his unique style, Tarantino is a directorial master.

It’s also worth talking about the film’s ending too. After Rick and Cliff have killed the hippies who attacked Rick’s house, Rick meets Jay Sebring who invites Rick to meet his neighbour, Sharon Tate. As the camera pulls away, the film’s title appears with a somewhat twinkly theme playing. This was all a fairy tale. This was not what happened in reality. This was Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. This ending was slightly unexpected but nonetheless still brilliantly done, allowing the audience to reflect on the awesomeness of the film they’d just watched and bringing them back to the reality in which Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger were fatally murdered by members of the Manson Family.

Overall, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood was a cinematic blast, and was one of those films where the more I thought back over it, the better it was, and as such gets an 8.6/10 from me. I can’t wait to rewatch Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. In a sea of CGI superheroes and animated remakes, Tarantino proves once again that authentic cinema is still not only unbeatable but truly amazing.

Thanks for reading this review. What did you think of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood? Let me know in the comments below!

To celebrate 25 years since the release of Pulp Fiction (my favourite film and arguably Tarantino’s best), I’ll be posting my rankings of Tarantino’s movies and asking the question, has Pulp Fiction aged well? See you then!

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