Quentin Tarantino’s new film is out. It’s too long, but can it be saved by the ghost of Sharon Tate, and the sight of Brad Pitt taking his shirt off?
This week’s film is “Once Upon A Time . . . in Hollywood”, Quentin Tarantino’s latest love letter to Hollywood and some of his favorite film influences including violent TV serials, Bruce Lee and spaghetti westerns. Set in Los Angeles right before the Charles Manson family murders in 1969, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, a fading television star who hangs out with his stunt double Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. Rick is battling a mid-life crisis when Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, moves in next door with Roman Polanski and her own groupies. As they pass one another on the street, the two entourages are kept apart as the characters flirt with exposing the Manson family until the film’s climax from Tarantino characteristically goes off not with a bang, but a flame. Tarantino mines several plot lines to achieve his typical tribute to all things in the Tarantino film universe, and his regular fans won’t be disappointed as confirmed by a 7-minute standing ovation the film received at the Cannes Film Festival. DiCaprio and Pitt are outstanding as work buddies who migrate to a full-on codependent bromance, buoyed by the absurdities of life in Hollywood in the sixties. Margot Robbie gives audiences a fitting flashback of Sharon Tate’s lovely persona and potential stardom. An outstanding supporting cast exceeds any traditional concept of “ensemble” and features some of Tarantino’s best collaborators including Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell and Zoe Bell.
So, on my ski trail rating system, “Once Upon A Time . . . in Hollywood” earns my intermediate BLUE ski trail rating. Again, without the benefit of Tarantino’s long-time editor Sally Menke, who tragically passed away in 2010, this film is too long, victimized by uneven narration notwithstanding its tribute value, and even Tarantino’s usually edgy writing languishes throughout large sections of the film. The best two scenes which feature DiCaprio acting as Rick Dalton acting as another character and the following scene in Rick’s trailer were actually ad-libbed by DiCaprio. However, the fantastic cast delivers on que and the story’s originality rescues Tarantino’s otherwise lackluster, personal collage. In the end, and this hard to say for a Tarantino film, the film was more interesting as a pseudoindustry retrospective than it was fun.
“Once Upon A Time . . . in Hollywood” is rated R for language, strong graphic violence, drug use, sexual references, and gratuitous use of a flame thrower.