Once Upon A Time in Hollywood Review

The Last of the Gun Slingers


Once Upon A Time in Hollywood Poster

Chuck Sipps, Arts and Life Editor

Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film ‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’ (OUATIH) is a visually stunning and melancholic look at aging in the Hollywood system in 1969. We follow Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, a bright star in the late ’50s and early ‘60s whose spotlight is dwindling, and his stalwart stuntman Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt. Dalton isn’t washed up just yet, but he fears that he will soon be thanks to his age and reliance and booze and cigarettes to get him through the days. Cliff, on the other hand, is an aging stuntman who for better or worse has hitched his wagon to Dalton.

Dalton was once the leading man of a western-style TV show, so Tarantino gets to revisit his love of the West once again by exploring some of Dalton’s older works, including a film where he starred as a Nazi hunter, another passion for Tarantino. The film is filled with references and homages to Tarantino’s previous movies for the fans of his work, as is his penchant for feet. Much like his last film ‘The Hateful 8’ OUATIH has the feel of a stage play put to screen. We find ourselves watching little vignettes that seem separate at first but as the film progresses the characters intersect in interesting and bombastic ways.

The film is visually stunning, I was fortunate to watch it in 70mm at the Music Box theater, one of only four theaters in the world to do so. The film runs there till Aug 4, 2019 and if you have the chance to see it there, I highly recommend it. There was something beautifully surreal about watching a film of a bygone era shown via a dying medium. Regardless of how you see the film, it is sure to be visually stunning.

While a portion of the film revolves around Sharon Tate and her run-in with the Manson Family, Margot Robbie, who plays Tate, doesn’t appear as much in the film as I had anticipated. This is DiCaprio and Pitt’s show, and Robbie is sort of there in the background. This isn’t to detract from her performance but a commentary on her limited screen time. Much time is dedicated to exploring Dalton and Cliff’s decline and in so doing exploring the aging Tarantino’s views on life as an older director in Hollywood.

There is a powerful scene where DiCaprio’s Dalton is conversing with a child starlet on a show he has a guest role in. They begin to discuss a book that Dalton is reading, about an aging Bronco Buster who can’t break a horse as good as he once did, and while in the context of the scene the Bronco Buster is a stand-in for Dalton in the context of the film it is a stand-in for Tarantino. Can the director still make a film as good as he once did? In the case of OUATIH, the answer is yes.

Tarantino’s expert writing and humor is on full display as is his love of lulling the audience in before unleashing extreme violence. No film this year has made me laugh harder, feel tenser and surprised me more. In an age where so many films feel cookie-cutter safe, Tarantino is still out there, like an old gunslinger, with a couple more shots left in the chamber.

I award the film 1969 potatoes on the Chuck Sipps’ Potato Scale.