Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood Movie Review (Spoiler-Free)

Tarantino’s latest visual epic is an ode to everything about classic Hollywood, set in the backdrop of the Manson murders.

In his ninth directorial outing, Quentin Tarantino expresses his nostalgic love of the 1950s and 60s alongside his typical propensity for a spell of ultra violence. Straight away its important to establish a few key points regarding how the film is framed and what it sets out to achieve.

Our protagonists are leading man Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Pitt). In what seems to be an analogue as a stand in for a Clint Eastwood type, especially with how Dalton makes his name on a 1950s Western show, Bounty Law, similarly to Eastwood’s ascent from his time on Rawhide, we see Dalton’s career rise and fall against the changing landscape of not only L.A. but the film industry as a whole.

Even if you don’t know the tragic true story of the Manson family murders and the eventual real world fate of Sharon Tate, the movie does an excellent job in giving a respectful, classy and balanced account of the time period, in a way that mixes in the fictional characters with that of real world counterparts such as Bruce Lee and Roman Polanski, giving an aura of authencity to this alternative almost fairytale take on events.

Make no mistake that this is a long movie with a lot to see and a tonne of background substance and subtle references hidden in there. If you’re going into this film expecting constant and in your face high-octane thrills and carange for the best part of three hours, then you may leave the cinema slightly disappointed. Hollywood is a movie that expects a certain level of patience out of the viewer and has no issue in slowing the pacing down to accentuate a particular moment, or in just letting the setting speak for itself with scenes such as Tarantino’s synomymous dialogue exchanges or leisurely drives around the streets of Los Angeles to give that tried and true sense of care and depth that the director is known for.

It certainly does help to have a knowledge of the time period and of the subject matter highlighted in this film but it is far from essential to enjoy the ride that the film wants to take you on. The acting in and of itself is second to none with the entire cast turning in some of their best performances of the career, DiCaprio’s Dalton is a complex and realistic vessel for in which we can experience both the glitz and glamour as well as the seedy side of Tinseltown. There are many rich callbacks to a lot of classic movies intergrated beautifully into the flick, including the likes of: James Bond, The Great Escape and Rosemary’s Baby to name a few.

There is a lot of great and gratuitous violence as well as some fun action scenes that really keep the momentum going and avert fears of boredom. Understandably though, I would not be surprised if the film was deemed sluggish or uneventful by certain viewers, despite the fact that I wholeheartedly refute that assumption and disagree, this is still a big budget  and high profile movie, releasing at the same time as The Lion King live action remake and another Fast and Furious film, Hollywood may be a bit too full on or indulgent for those kinds of people.

Ultimately what we have here is a star-studded fantastical glimpse into the golden age of Hollywood, stunningly recreated for the modern day, with its unique shine and charm giving way to the grizzly events that transpire. It may take a few more viewings to fully appreciate and it definitely is going to be one of the director’s more divisive movies, but if you have the patience and the stomach for it, then Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is undoubtedly one of the best movies that you will see all year.

Author: Aleksha McLoughlin

Editorial journalist known for her work with Dennis Publishing's Expert Reviews, the BBC, No Clean Singing, Vinyl Chapters and more.

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