As someone with an interest in pre-1990s America and the rise of film in Hollywood, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood was a title that piqued my interest.
Directed by legendary director, Quentin Tarantino and with a cast that includes Hollywood heavy-hitters, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Margot Robbie and more, I went into this film expecting a masterpiece. Imagine my surprise when halfway through the film, I felt underwhelmed and slightly lost.
The film follows Hollywood actor, Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt), as they try to rekindle their dwindling careers in a rapidly changing industry that neither recognise. On the upside, however, is that Dalton’s new neighbour is none other than leading actress, Sharon Tate (Robbie).
The narrative is an intriguing one as down on their luck characters attempting to get their lives back on track often make for great stories. However, despite the narrative being based on an interesting concept, the long drawn out approach in telling the story through endless dialogue and various back and forth made watching the film feel like an arduous task for me, personally.
When it comes to film these days, I much prefer those that are able to get to the point relatively quickly, or at least done in a way that engages me as an audience member. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in a film and wondered when the crux of the film begins and if the end was near. Having only ever seen bits and pieces of other Tarantino films, I can’t say with certainty whether this is simply attributed to the director’s style of film-making or if what I was feeling was just due to the way this film was made.
While the narrative didn’t engage me, the characters certainly did. Though Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth were fictional characters in the film, there were several others who were based on real life celebrities during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Watching the film, I soon realised several names I recognised but knew nothing about. This prompted me to read up about the personalities featured in the film which led me to read multiple entries about one of Hollywood’s most gruesome murders: the murder of Sharon Tate by the Charles Manson family.
It was definitely interesting seeing these characters on screen, only to learn much more about them after the film ended. For example, reading about Sharon Tate’s murder led me to learn about the award-winning director, Roman Polanski’s scandalous sexual assault case which has spanned decades.
While the narrative felt overly long and drawn out, each of the actors played their respective roles perfectly. There’s little doubt that DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie are remarkable actors, able to captivate audiences through their brilliant portrayals.
Another aspect of the film that caught my eye was the way in which it truly managed to capture the look and feel of the 1960s and 1970s. The way the visuals depicted Los Angeles at the time made me feel like I was there, experiencing life exactly the way the characters on screen were, which was a unique experience. In addition, having popular songs from the era playing throughout the film as part of its soundtrack helped solidify the feeling of being in existence within the film’s time period.
Even though the film felt really long, it did inspire me to learn more about the state of Hollywood at the end of its Golden Age and prompted a fair amount of reading into one of the most famous murders of the time. Fans of Tarantino will certainly enjoy the razzle-dazzle of celebrity culture, the way in which Hollywood is depicted through the eyes of disillusioned personalities, and the brilliant acting carried out by the majority of the cast.