Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Review

Let’s talk about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

A Quentin Tarantino movie is an event. I’m not going to say that everyone one of his movies are classics but you always have to pay attention to them. They come charging into the room, firing a minigun into the air, bleeding for some reason and screaming bloody murder. Then they probably commit murder, but in a cool way. So because of that, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is being seen as one of the biggest and most anticipated movies of the year. And in a cinematic year which has been disappointing to everyone but Disney, Bob Iger has now constructed the Scrooge McDuck vault for real now, I think we all need a reminder of amazing Hollywood is and that we should probably forgive them for Playmobil: The Movie.

Back in the 1960s, Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is an actor with his career on the descent. Instead of being in movies or even the lead of his own TV series, he is now forced to be the episode of the week villain in other series. Along with him for the ride is his stunt double, Cliff.

This movie is almost three hours long. That’s a very long time. It isn’t the most surprising thing, Tarantino’s last movie The Hateful Eight was a similar length. But that was more like a play than a movie and had a very intricate plot which justified the amount of time spent on it. So with Tarantino going for a similar runtime for this movie, you’d expect an intricate plot on the same sort of level. But no, you don’t get that. You don’t really get a plot at all. In terms of your usual plot structure, thinking back to Film Studies and Todorov here, there’s nothing really going on. There’s no triggering event, there’s no quest for any sort of hero to go, stuff just happens. Rick Dalton does some acting, Cliff does some odd jobs to help Rick out and we see what Sharon Tate gets up to in her free time. Seeing her own movie and being happy when people laugh at her scenes as it turns out. ALSO TAKING HER SHOES OFF IN THE CINEMA WHICH IS NOT ON.

Basically the movie is plotless and just meanders about for well over two hours not doing very much. There are some minor arcs and themes which are touched on upon such as Rick Dalton trying to adjust to the fact his peak has been and gone and that its mostly going to be downhill from here. There’s also the Manson Family just bubbling away in the background, doing their thing and being very creepy while doing it. But even though those things are there, I wouldn’t call it a plot or a story line. These things are completely forgotten when other scenes crop up dealing with other, non-plot forwarding things, and I can’t say a dull menace of the Manson Family is anything but a distraction for most of the movie.

What the movie is is a journey through the 1960s. What I think Tarantino is doing here more than anything else is taking us on a tour of Hollywood in the 1960s, when the radio was playing hit after hit, the movies are pretty forgettable and hippy fever is everywhere. And if the movie’s main aim was that, it did a very good job. It makes this decade look amazing. The soundtrack is seriously amazing and I’m thinking about picking it up, which you too can do by following this link, as it has so many of the best songs from the decade plus more. Moving on from me sounding like an informercial you see at 2am, the movie just gets everything right about the decade and it’s one of those cases where the setting is just as much a character as any of the people we spend time with.

This partially saves the movie alongside the actual characters. If you didn’t enjoy spending time with these guys on their misadventures, this would be one of the worst movies of the year without a doubt. Luckily Tarantino is one of the best people to write interesting and funny characters that you might not necessarily want to hang out with, but you definitely want to watch because you want to see what they get up to next, even if there is no interesting reason to do so. Cliff gets into a fight with Bruce Lee and while that scene has caused a bit of controversy which is essentially ‘My dad can beat up your dad’, it is the ridiculous sort of nonsense that this movie does incredibly well. There have been plenty of movies which pop by from scene to scene which have been terrible because as well as a lack of direction, the scenes have been bad as well. Because these scenes pop with life, you do almost forgive it for the lack of direction.

But not completely forgive. I honestly can’t get over the fact that one of the best and most innovative storytellers in Western Cinema took 3 hours of my time to not really do much but splice Leonardo DiCaprio into clips of 1960s TV shows. Admittedly that’s enjoyable in it’s own way but the lack of a well constructed narrative hurts this movie badly. It makes everything feel hollow and without point because none of the arcs are completed and by the end of the movie, nothing has really changed. The best way to describe this is that it’s a cake that’s just frosting. Sure, it’s sweet and may taste nice. But ultimately it makes you feel sick.

I’m not going to expend much energy in trying to deter you from seeing Once Upon A Time In Hollywood because it is enjoyable. I would probably eat a cake that’s all frosting if I’m to continue that analogy so can’t really tell other people not to. But it is definitely underwhelming and disappointing. In a year where so many movies have under delivered with the public, the critics and at the box office, I was really rooting for this movie to plant its flag and be something truly marvellous and to hopefully be on my Top 10 Films of the Year at the end of 2019. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be anywhere near.

Pre-Order Once Upon A Time In Hollywood here!

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A Guy Who Talks About Movies

Former Head of Movies for Screen Critics. Film Reviews now hosted on Medium.