Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction are among my favourite films of all time. They are all written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, and that made me very excited to sit down and watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A Tarantino film set in the late 60s Hollywood with Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie? Sign me up.
The film is an alternate reality version of the Sharon Tate/Manson Family tragedy, and it focuses on DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, an actor whose career is slowly dying, and his stuntman body double Cliff Booth. Brad Pitt as Booth is a stark reminder that all men are not created equal. This man is in his 50s and looks absolutely stunning. There seems to be a flock of 50-something humans around now who look absolutely stunning, including J-Lo at the Superbowl last night. So glad that Kansas City won after Arsenal let me down earlier in the day.
Back to the film, DiCaprio and Pitt play off each other well, and I genuinely bought their friendship even if Cliff seems to be making most of the effort. He is employed by DiCaprio as a Driver/Handyman and you see his own life is pretty simple, and he has a dog, which makes him 100% more lovable. Pitt plays the role brilliantly and is magnetic on screen, stealing the show from the other talents in the film. I have to say he deserves all the praise and accolades he is being nominated for and awarded.
DiCaprio has moments of genius, but never quite matches Pitt’s performance, almost feeling a little like a caricature of a 60s actor at times. I think that’s sort of the idea, but it didn’t quite sit right with me for some reason even though I did enjoy his performance. He has arguably the biggest laugh in the film’s final act, and he also delivers a big emotional moment earlier in the film when his character is acting. He acts as an actor acting as a cowboy, but there is a moment in that scene where you actually feel like there is something else there and you find yourself feeling sorry for him in an odd way.
Margot Robbie plays the role of Sharon Tate, and in this film while she is great as always, she is completely unnecessary. I am taking nothing away from her performance, she’s great and stunning to look at and everything else, but I could not understand why this film needed Sharon Tate and the Manson murders in it. It could have just been a bunch of mad people trying to get at Rick and Cliff, without Sharon Tate’s involvement in the film at all.
The other issue with her role, and the role of women in general in this film, is that the camera spends most of the time on her legs and feet. I think Margot Robbie is possibly the most attractive woman on earth, but I found myself in shock at the levels of gratuitously long shots on her legs and feet. Margaret Qualley plays another girl, one of the Manson family, and once again there are egregious shots of her legs and feet.
It’s a common feature in Tarantino’s films to have a shot of feet, he likes feet, it’s his thing, whatever. But to me it signified this film’s biggest issue. Everything about this film is self-indulgent. Tarantino is one of my favourite directors, but to me this just felt too much. The first two hours are a slow, frankly dull series of events with a few highlights, but at 2 hours and 42 minutes, someone should have been editing this down to a comfortable 2 hours and 15. Off the top of my head there is no reason for Margot Robbie’s character, and there is a ridiculous scene with Bruce Lee, both of which can be cut.
That Bruce Lee scene is a 5-minute-long set up for a joke. It’s funny, its entertaining, but it’s completely unrelated to the story, it does nothing for it and I don’t understand why it’s there. Which is kind of where I land on this film, and that is something that really hurts to write. There is just too much of this movie that I found myself questioning why I was watching? Where was it going?
For the first three quarters of its run time, this film sits in the departure lounge. Eventually we jump into a jet and fly off, but it comes a little bit too late. The last 40 minutes are the kind of mad, frenetic incredible entertainment I watch a Tarantino film for, but when the price is 2 hours of standing still, it just was not worth the wait.
This film is a technical masterpiece, the production design, the sets, the acting, even the direction is fantastic. There is just no story being told here, nothing to pull on your emotions or give you anything to think about, it will make you laugh at times, and there are some really good characters in there, but this is a rare disappointment for me from Tarantino.
Good: The acting, the direction, the production design, the technical elements are great, and the main characters are fun, except for Margot.
Bad: Lack of an engaging story means it is 2 hours of characters talking about their past success, and then something entertaining happens.
6/10 – Technically great, Actually Boring.