Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019)
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 41 min.

Release Date: July 26th, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Quentin Tarantino Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Nicholas Hammond, Lorenza Izzo, Lena Dunham, Kurt Russell




ick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is well-known for his NBC television show “Bounty Law,” in which he stars as an Old West bounty hunter named Jake Cahill. Stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) doesn’t share the fame, but he’s nevertheless popularized to some degree by intermittent interviews. And they’re good pals, though their financial contrast finds Cliff serving as a temporary chauffeur, a gofer, and a housesitter. It’s 1969 when agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) arranges a meeting with Dalton in L.A. to discuss the direction of his career – and how making Italian movies might be the only option to rejuvenate flagging popularity. “It’s official, old buddy. I’m a has-been.”

Coincidentally, Dalton’s next-door neighbor is Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), who’s notably married to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). And the two of them embark on various little misadventures, such as visiting the Playboy Mansion, driving speedily around the Hollywood Hills, or dealing with a possible love triangle with Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). The sequences with these true-to-life people generate a timeline that ticks away to the fateful and notorious ending to their relationship.

Due to the exhaustive scripting and length, there’s a lot of story to unpack, as Dalton’s work finds him on the set of a pilot called “Lancer,” directed by Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond); Booth’s sordid past is detailed; and a gang of wandering young women are destined to be exploited by opprobrious cult leader Charles Manson (Damon Herriman). The incidents steadily grow stranger, too, especially when Booth snoops around the Spahn Movie Ranch; or unnecessary, when Tate spends a good chunk of time watching her own movie (“The Wrecking Crew”). In its attempt to comprehensively cover pop culture components and love-letter-to-the-movies nods, it feels unfocused and overlong. Plus, at about two hours in, audiences are given a “Six Months Later” intertitle, jumping ahead to August of 1969, bringing with it a new narrator who recaps the gap – making it feel as if the start to a completely new movie.

Familiar narrative interferences – including sudden asides that clarify or correct character statements, shots of fictional movies or television spots to exhibit what the characters are already familiar with, and editing and sound effects gimmicks – crop up frequently, along with regular Tarantino players (Zoe Bell, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen), and comical confrontations. And, despite the fresh setting and time period, the dialogue is unmistakably Tarantino’s work, full of humor, wordiness, long scenes, and longer observations. Regardless of the plot or characters or historical background, the director’s mark is all over this production.

With the late ’60s locations and events, the picture serves as a bit of a (revisionist) history lesson (and a semi-biography of Tate), loosely intertwining Hollywood players with the looming Manson mass-murders, though it’s only as accurate as “Inglourious Basterds” was to that wartime epoch (and for anyone unfamiliar with the particulars, it might not make much sense; at least, where it’s heading will be peculiar at best). It also doesn’t shy away from generous clips from properties of the era, as well as fictionalized inclusions of the characters into real entities (such as “Hullabaloo,” “The F.B.I.,” and “The Great Escape”) and on-set sequences from the fake series that star Dalton. And other continual references are countless, not only with movies and television programs, but also with advertising, products, songs, clothing, cars, and more. Celebrity impersonators are similarly amusing (again, primarily to viewers familiar with the period), from Steve McQueen to Bruce Lee, who supplement a considerable, A-list, ensemble cast.

There’s also a send-up going on concerning the movie industry in general, commenting on method acting, the filming process, butchered lines, alcohol abuse, deteriorating stardom, pep talks, and the styles of Spaghetti Westerns and Euro-thrillers, to name a few. As with many of Tarantino’s pictures, the attention to detail, the unhurried pacing, and the focus on complex interactions tend to contribute to lulls; while the story is interesting, it nevertheless drags in spots. And this tale in particular doesn’t have the action or suspense that populated his previous endeavors, even if it’s largely unpredictable how he might rewrite historical happenings.

Strangely, there’s no build to the climax (yet surely long-anticipated by some), which is the most monumental aspect; a countdown of sorts occurs, but it’s mild-mannered and seemingly inconsequential. It’s also not enough; a nearly three-hour wait for a single moment of fantastic frenzy amounts to minimal entertainment (though, admittedly, the degree of overkill is laugh-out-loud funny). “I’ve got a flamethrower in my toolshed.” Clearly, Tarantino designed this movie for himself, getting to dabble in genres he enjoys and surrounding himself with memorabilia from the past – and he isn’t concerned if anyone else understands what he’s aiming for.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10