Since breaking onto the scene in the early 90s, the auteuristic work of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has been celebrated by audiences and critics alike. With his illustrious yet controversial career soon coming to an end, his penultimate piece is comedy drama Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, the plot follows fading actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his trusty stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) on their quest for superstardom. When rising actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband move in next door to Rick, a dark chain of events are set in motion.
Tarantino movies are usually instantly recognisable by pithy dialogue and blood-soaked ultraviolence. Though the extreme elements of his signature style are toned down in this effort, many of the trademark traits are prevalent, and it feels like a cinematic scrapbook of the director’s back catalogue. The tinseltown setting is fantastic for the peppering of pop culture in the narrative, but the director has swapped the dark shades for rose-tinted glasses to take a wistful gaze at cinema itself. With several story strands going off on tangents and slowly developing simultaneously, it’s his pulpiest structure since Pulp Fiction, and the pitch-perfect pacing builds to a shocking and suspenseful final act.
Having previously collaborated with Tarantino, both DiCaprio and Pitt are well versed in the laidback toing and froing of his conversations and the quotable monologues in scripts. Leo gives a meaty, multi-layered turn and strikes up a fascinating combination of volatility and sadness as Rick comes to terms with his own impermanence. His depth both contrasts and compliments Brad Pitt’s ingenious performance which, though it might be more straightforward, I think is the better of the two leads. Cliff Booth is a richly written character, and Pitt possesses the necessary suaveness and swagger required to bring him to life on screen.
It’s been well publicised that Margot Robbie has a somewhat limited role in this particular tale, and yet she is a pivotal presence throughout. As Tate, she symbolises the wide-eyed awe and excitement with which Hollywood was met with in its Golden Age, and this innocence is essential in the awakening of the industry’s much more sinister side which we witness through the introduction of the notorious Manson Family.
The streak of melancholic nostalgia running through Once Upon a Time in Hollywood might have blunted the razor-sharp edge of Quentin Tarantino, but it only emphasises the care he puts into his craft. Unlike what we’ve come to expect from him, this is sentimental cinema and as sweet as a five-dollar shake. A brilliant film made by one of the world’s biggest film fans…and a must-see for everyone else.