Sunday, November 3, 2019

Movie with Abe: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Released July 26, 2019

There exists an intriguing area of intersection between truth and fiction. Many films based on true stories include fabricated events and entire characters designed to better help an audience digest the plot. Some films go a step further in revising history by inserting other players whose presence would have deeply influenced how things happened, imagining a different trajectory with crucial tweaks to known moments in history. This approach has been taken by Quentin Tarantino with his last three films, rewriting narratives during World War II and the time of the Civil War. In his latest project, he’s targeting a more familiar setting: the golden age of Hollywood.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an aging TV star whose career is slowing down. His best friend is his stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), whose anti-authority reputation has caused him to lose steady work. After being approached by a casting agent (Al Pacino) who wants to send him to Rome to work with a prestigious Italian director, Rick must grapple with the state of his life, which includes a yearning desire to befriend his new neighbor Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her celebrity filmmaker husband Roman Polanski. Cliff, less concerned with his fate, becomes enchanted by a young hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley) he has no idea is among the devoted followers of one Charles Manson.

This movie is marketed as the ninth film from Tarantino, a rare instance where an auteur’s work can be easily counted (and all of which this reviewer has seen). In many ways, it feels nothing like a traditional Tarantino project, minimizing bloodbaths in exchange for a glorification of an influential period in cinema. The use of many regular actors, some in small but purposeful cameos, is just one manner in which he does leave his mark on this often bizarre but deeply intentional film, which invents characters based on a number of real-life influences and designed to mimic standard and sentiments of the times.

While diehard cinephiles will likely appreciate the nods to a nostalgic era, and the production values, namely the period set design and colorful costumes, are stunning, this film’s story doesn’t make it feel like a unified production. His previous works have featured similarly stacked ensembles and boldly exaggerated premises, and this film lacks that same appeal. As a reflective ode to cinema for Tarantino, it makes complete sense and has value in that right, but it doesn’t compare to many of his wilder and more spectacular efforts in the past.

DiCaprio turned us one of his finest performances in his previous collaboration with Tarantino, “Django Unchained,” and here he delivers a comical portrayal of an actor no longer convinced by his own abilities. Pitt, who starred in “Inglourious Basterds,” is having a blast here, cool and relaxed until he’s prompted to show force. In a relatively small role, new collaborator Robbie makes a tremendous impact, as does omnipresent rising star Qualley. A two-hour-forty-minute runtime is nothing new for Tarantino, and even if it’s not riveting, the film does manage to remain engaging for most of it. Though it didn’t wow me, this might almost be Tarantino’s least divisive film, a sentiment that must be considered in perspective.


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