There are several 2019 films that I could talk aimlessly about for hours. For instance, I could discuss the sheer joy on my face and in my Keanu-loving heart as I watched John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum in the Dolby theater, a correct decision with the amount of sense-shattering action that easily vibrated the room and commanded all attention. But it wasn’t until I started watching Tarantino’s 9th that I felt that itch to share everything I was feeling.
I caught a 35mm screening at the Logan Theater in Chicago. The Logan always gives me a cozy experience with fans, especially if you catch the first show of the day on a beautifully sleepy Friday. I tend to avoid bustling opening nights due to chatty Kathys, teens that think they are the dopest for shouting nonsense at the screen, and the absurd cell phone usage that shreds away at my anxiety. Let me tell you that this viewing was one hundred percent the correct decision for enjoying this film—very much free of distractions.
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood has easily been one of my most anticipated films of the year, as is the case any time Quentin Tarantino announces a new project. If it isn’t obvious, yes I am a fan. I am a writer who is obsessed with dialogue and character details. Tarantino’s writing fits in with my vibe. This film nerd pushes all the right buttons for my kind of storytelling, so hearing that he was tackling a seemingly more mainstream plot absolutely piqued my excitement.
Accustomed to the quick dialogue and the typical covering of a lot of information rather quickly, I was blown away with how different this felt. There was an extra bit of polish to the look as well as the pacing. There was most certainly a strategic ebb and flow of dialogue and character interaction.
With the idea of a film coming in under two hours becoming a rarity in blockbusters, I have started to feel that run time in a bitter way. I become bored and wish so badly I could help re-edit to take timing seriously. But in this case, the ebbs were just as enjoyable as the flows as I was watching these characters in silence. This was 1969. Driving around and listening to the hot 100 on the radio and vintage (to us now) advertising with the windows down makes sense. Even with all of the music, this felt quiet and calm and reflective.
This pulls at my sentimental side knowing that road rage and apps and media fill up our simple time. I miss having simple time. And perhaps that is why this film impressed me. At the end of the day, it is remarkably simple compared to his other work. And I think it’s wonderful to fit a lot of moving parts together to make a lasting, effortless moment.
Now of course I don’t mean simple in terms of budget or prestige. There is money all over that screen. When I say it feels big in scope, I know that it’s Tarantino. It’s huge. But the reach of the story, the amount of players, the authentic feel and atmosphere…these are what mesh together in a fresh way for his filmmaking.
The script alone fits in with his iconic structure, but the tame storytelling for a majority of the film is refreshing. That being said, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood still features the wonderfully odd shifts in pacing, extreme violence, and energy that I have always admired in films like Death Proof and Kill Bill.
As for the casting, can I just say how badly I have been wanting to see Leonardo DiCaprio in a comedic role? The man has put in some work for his impressive acting chops, and sure you could explain to me why the The Wolf of Wall Street is a comedy (uhh, are you forgetting the Quaalude scene?!) but in a way, I have been missing out on some character study that makes me genuinely laugh out loud. My laughter during The Wolf of Wall Street, a film I honestly didn’t love, was always more “oh my God, this is crazy” than “hahaha, I’ve been there, buddy.”
I can confidently say that in my personal opinion, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is Leo’s best performance. Portraying Rick Dalton is such a layered, desperate, self-loathing, and self-loving performance.
This being said, I don’t think that he steals the show fully. Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth character works just as well in the subtle, sideways grin kind of way that he has mastered. He is seasoned in the best kind of way and it feels like he is flaunting a bit. The moment an acid dipped cigarette was mentioned, I was counting down the moments for Brad to partake, and oh was the wait worth it.
The final act takes a wild turn into a Tarantino madness that I loved. The Manson family cast weaves an ominously playful atmosphere throughout and really does make the mind race if you were already familiar with the Sharon Tate murder. Margot Robbie’s smiley portrayal of Tate is pure and sweet, a necessary addition to this huge cast. Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is for dreamers and the hopelessly lost. I have always loved Tarantino’s attention to the good, the bad, and the messy.
Returning to the film’s end, because it is a departure that cannot be ignored, I knew things were going to be different than a factual telling of the murders as soon as a booze-filled margarita-wielding Rick Dalton started screaming at the Manson family. Of course this would end in fantasy. How could I not know that from the start?
The insane amount of violence that comes from Booth’s fists and can-throwing abilities, Brandy the dog’s ferocious attack, and Dalton’s epic flamethrower moment makes for one of my favorite Tarantino carnage scenes. Well done.
There is so much more to say, but I cannot wait for all of the conversations I will have with others as to why they loved, hated, or were indifferent with this movie. Some things I take away from Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood are that I could watch DiCaprio yell at and threaten himself for hours, Pitt still has it, Robbie is crushing it right now, that dog is the cutest, cars and clothing used to be the coolest, and I will always look forward to what Tarantino comes out with next because he just goes for it whether or not people will like it or the studios will understand it.