Cinema Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Posted 5 months ago in Cinema Reviews

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Director: Quentin Tarantino 

Talent: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

Released: 14 August

Whatever you might think of Quentin Tarantino, no cinephile can ignore his releases. Still, his back catalogue has got increasingly trivial and self-indulgent in the last twenty years. Although often diverting, Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds were airless exercises, the products of a prodigiously talented director who couldn’t help but blow raspberries, the writing lacking the felt pressure of experience, his characters adolescent cartoons. It seemed Tarantino remained a movie fan rather than a fully-fledged filmmaker. And yet, in his first three films, there were moments of real jeopardy and pathos – Thurman and Travolta’s connection swiftly followed by her ODing; Max falling for the titular Jackie Brown.

Still, we don’t want Tarantino too responsible. The highs are often a direct consequence of his irreverence – like the plunge into hell that is the gimp scene.

Has this new film that also melds fact and fiction cracked the code and found the right balance between substance and silly mischief?  Yes, but it’s a qualified yes.

There are problems: stretches of the movie are straightforwardly boring – think that one aimless scene in Pulp Fiction when Keitel pointlessly introduces his daughter; there are many such scenes here. We’re subjected to long scenes of DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton acting, which are funny but lack narrative drive. The dawdling pace can be pleasurable, but the film is baggy and overlong.

That said, these feel like real flesh-and-blood characters. While DiCaprio’s tantrums are played for laughs, there’s something affecting about this erstwhile star Rick Dalton’s anxiety about becoming a has-been – could there be a hint of autobiography here for QT? Pitt puts in an amiable performance, happily playing second-fiddle to Dalton as his stunt double, less prone to disappointment as he never strained to aim so high. And Robbie, as Sharon Tate, is low-key and charmingly guileless, taking pleasure in her own success, as the Manson family narrows in.

This being QT, naturally, there’s explosive, cathartic violence which will incite handwringing from bores. The closing sequence is a blast that invigorates as much as it makes you squirm, both glorious and stupid all at once.

Good to have the semi-mature QT back. Now, let’s just hope he doesn’t try to re-write the history of 9/11 with Samurais.

Words: Rory Kiberd


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