Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s highly anticipated tenth film. It is set in 1969, during the final months of the golden age of Hollywood, a time that Tarantino is clearly nostalgic for. The cast is impressive- Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie are the stars and even Al Pacino has a small role. DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, an actor who has found success in TV but is struggling to break into film. His neighbour Roman Polanski, at the height of his career, only serves as a bitter reminder of his lack of success. Pitt plays Cliff Booth, ostensibly Dalton’s stuntman but in truth his most loyal and ironically, under-appreciated friend. It is exciting to see Pitt and DiCaprio act alongside each other especially because they are both famous for being 90’s heart-throbs. I found Pitt the most enjoyable to watch however because it is clear he had the most fun with his part.
Margot Robbie plays an exuberant Sharon Tate who can usually be found smiling or dancing. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Tarantino was challenged about how few lines Robbie was given in the film. It is notable because she is the female lead. I felt we never got to know her character, and it is precisely because Robbie is not given much to say. The portrayal of Tate is lovely in that the film shows how happy a person the late actress was but unfortunately, because the character is no development, it also means she lacks in substance.
Although I liked the performances and cinematography, I cannot say I especially enjoyed watching Once Upon a Time. The film does not have enough plot; the first two hours of the films simply follow the days in the lives of the characters without any clear focus. There is the prospect of the Manson Murders looming of course, but this did not prevent the film from feeling overlong and sluggish. There is a spectacular, violent finish- beware squeamish viewers! Even after the exciting finale, I left the cinema wondering what the point of the film was at all. Tarantino did not succeed in making me care about this era of Hollywood and without an engrossing plot or the chance to care deeply for the characters, there was nothing to pique my interest.
I also feel it is important for me to acknowledge that there were things that made me feel uncomfortable in this film. It is strange to see Roman Polanski depicted in film when in the modern day, we know about the allegations of rape against him. Bruce Lee is portrayed in the film in such a way that his daughter has declared racist. I would say that it is good to bear these things in mind while watching. I can appreciate that this is an original, well-made picture released during the summer and it is the type of cinematic release that is unfortunately becoming increasingly rare. Nevertheless, it has many underlying problems; it is certainly not Tarantino’s masterpiece.
Brigid Molloy – Film & TV Editor