This review was originally published as part of our Cannes Festival coverage on 23/05/2019.
It’s impossible to view Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as anything other than a filmmaker in the twilight of his career looking back upon what the industry means to him. After all, having repeatedly claimed he’ll retire after his tenth film, this may be his penultimate effort.
Hollywood follows TV lead Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they struggle with their professional egos. Tarantino would balk at the idea, but Hollywood feels like the film of a man afraid he’s losing his touch. Dalton spends the film sweetly wracked with fears he’s not good enough and never will be; meanwhile Booth’s past personal indiscretions hobble any hopes of a major film career. Read into that as you will.
There were justifiable fears that Tarantino may treat the Manson murders with little sensitivity, and if that isn’t exactly untrue (in a way it’s better you don’t know and can’t guess), let’s just say it’s a pleasant surprise to find the controversial director in a more mellow mood. If there’s any of Tarantino’s usual historical revisionism on display it’s mostly a lament that Sharon Tate wasn’t able to live her life through film the way he has.
It may have inspired some of his most infamous shots, but Tarantino’s love of filmmaking also gives Hollywood a stuttering rhythm and little depth. A huge amount plays out in films-within-films or on-set sequences, which are fun, but reveal little.
Sadly, Tarantino’s nostalgic mood comes with some script misfires. Usually so slick and engrossing as a writer, here scenes and sentences clatter into each other with little bite or punch. Hollywood feels like the work of a man reaching for the novelistic dialogue of The Hateful Eight, the intimate characterisation of Jackie Brown, and the triumphant violence of Inglourious Basterds, but nailing none.
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Al Pacino
DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino
WRITER: Quentin Tarantino
SYNOPSIS: A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.