Film Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Frances Winston reviews this latest epic from Director, Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino – Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Luke Perry

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or completely avoiding all entertainment press) it can’t have escaped your notice that there’s been a little bit of controversy about this movie – namely that the female lead, Margot Robbie, seemingly has extremely little dialogue.

I will admit this filled me with a bit of trepidation before the screening. After all, there are few enough female roles on offer, without making them silent. Robbie plays Sharon Tate, the 1960s actress who was one of the victims of the Manson Family. And this entire movie is set in the build-up to that fateful night.

Yet it is predominately told through the eyes of 1950s western TV star, Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his best friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt). By the late 60s, both men’s fortunes have changed, and Rick is reduced to guest cameos on popular shows, while Cliff is working as his driver. Rick also just happens to live next door to Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski.

This basically follows the pair in the months prior to the slaughter, as Rick scrambles to find quality work and Cliff keeps encountering the same intriguing young woman – who just happens to be a member of the Manson family.

Meanwhile, Sharon is wrapped up in the bubble of her recently-found fame. The conceit of Tate and the murders merely serves to frame what is definitely Tarantino’s love letter to 1960s Hollywood. He has faithfully recreated classic shows and movies, which are interspersed throughout, and is completely faithful to the era.

There is a particularly poignant moment, where Robbie as Tate watches herself on the big-screen, but it is the real Sharon that we see – immortalised forever on celluloid despite her tragic fate.

Everything here is a tribute of some sort to the medium Tarantino loves. There are a couple of ill-advised moments. The appearance of Bruce Lee is disappointing, as is Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen. And there are some references that may go over the heads of all but the most ardent movie-geeks. But there is plenty here to love. The cinematography is fabulous, there is some stunning sound-mixing, the story is surprisingly thoughtful (given the gory premise) and there are definite ‘did not see that coming’ moments.

Of course, there is the epic bloody fight scene – it wouldn’t be Tarantino without it. But again, it’s not what you’d expect, and it has a huge amount of humour.

So, to address the Robbie thing – no she doesn’t have much dialogue. However, when you see the film it actually makes sense. As a female reviewer, I understood why her character was handled as it was when I saw the ending (which really isn’t what you’d expect) and I wasn’t put out by it. She does a great job with or without dialogue.

Meanwhile DiCaprio and Pitt should be paired up all the time. They are a great double-act. There’s a serious bromance there. Many other Tarantino regulars make appearances, some in literally ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ moments, and all seem to be having great fun.

And prepare to have all the feels when Luke Perry appears on screen, in what was to be his last-ever screen appearance, as he died shortly after filming his role. This really is an amazing piece of work. It is completely engaging, extremely clever, and will leave you strangely invigorated, and yet with a lump in your throat. It is solidly crafted and more mature and less overblown than many of Tarantino’s earlier works.

It you want some solid storytelling, a bit of nostalgia, dramatic action scenes and surprising twists and turns, then Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the movie for you.

In Cinemas Now!

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