Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood: a Fairy Tale about Nothing

Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt deliver solid acting chops amidst a thin story line

If I were to attribute the word “bombastic” with one film director, it would be Quentin Tarantino. Out of his comprehensive filmography, you’d be hard pressed to find a single film without copious violence, flamboyant characterization, and edgy subject matter. If you were to tell me he has the capability to temper his skills to a reserved storyline, I would not have believed you. Then came the first trailer for Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood. It seemed as though he finally found inspiration for a more personal, reserved character drama. With Leonardo Dicaprio playing a washed-out Hollywood actor in 1969, and Brad Pitt as his macho, cool-guy stunt double, I expected to finally see a Tarantino movie that caters to folks who find his usual hyperviolence off-putting. Thats what we ended up getting with this movie, but along with reserved storytelling, I found Tarantino’s 9th flick to be a whole lot of nothing.

There’s pros and cons to Tarantino’s change of pace. Ultimately what seems to drive the narrative is the director’s nostalgia for the golden days of old Hollywood. The dazzling world of 60s film culture in Los Angeles and Hollywood is excellently recreated via set pieces and portrayals. Mike Moh is a perfect Bruce Lee; Damian Lewis replicates Steve McQueen with total precision in mannerisms; Margot Robbie copies the signature ditsy kindness shown by Sharon Tate. Unfortunately, none of these efforts from such capable actors go to any plot of significance…because there basically isn’t a plot. Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood is more a collection of vignettes than a real film. I’m given the impression that Tarantino was so overwhelmed with ambition that he never found a way to focus his nostalgic energy. The mise-en-scène of each “snapshot” throughout the film has its own distinct charm, but hardly any feeds their way into a gradually developing narrative. Simply put: as a whole, I found this film dull.

The biggest saving grace of Quentin’s 9th film is the solid acting from DiCaprio and Pitt. This is some of their finest work I’ve seen. You can tell they feel a sense of duty to owning their respective characters and delivering a solid performance to the audience. Their chemistry is excellent, and I hope to see these two in another film in the future. Their penultimate shared finale (driven by little development) is wildly fun, ultimately allowing the story to end on a higher note despite a lack of focus.

I would say that this is the first Tarantino movie for folks who don’t like Tarantino. I wish that this consequently implied a refreshing story line that consistently elevated dramatic tension across the entire run time. But if you have an appreciation for solid acting, or are a film nerd who enjoys the history of production, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood might be for you. 6.3/10