I’d been looking forward to watching Once Upon A Time in Hollywood a while before its release date. Quentin Tarantino plus an all-star cast portraying life in the hills in the late sixties seemed about as safe a bet in the entertainment stakes as any film two hours and 45 minutes long could be.
But having been on holiday during its release in the UK by the time I came around to watching it myself the reviews from friends who had seen it were less than complimentary. ‘Disappointing’ and ‘a bit boring in places’ being the common words used in most verbal reviews I received.
On account of these reviews, I headed to the cinema with more trepidation than I otherwise would’ve done. Trepidation that to my relief, I found to be unwarranted. To me, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood was not boring, not in the slightest. Yet at the same time, I could understand why certain audiences might read it as such.
The story centres around the question of whether Leonardo Di Caprio’s character, Rick Dalton, the one-time star of a hit TV Western; can re-invent his flagging acting career, while his co-dependent and laidback stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) loiters around nonchalantly waiting on the results.
This storyline was enough to hold me and I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Dalton who seems to be perpetually on the verge of a mental breakdown over his uncertain future and Booth, who gives the impression that whatever ills befall him he will merely shrug his shoulders and get on with his life.
The biggest disappointment to me was Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, or to be more accurate, the lack of significance Robbie’s character seemed to hold throughout the bulk of the movie.
It is not until the final scene that she seems to play any critical role in the story other than providing an extremely attractive distraction to the adventures of Dalton and Booth. In the end, her role in the story does become clear, however for the majority of the film her inclusion appears to be little more than a dated ‘insert female eye candy here’ manoeuvre, which I found disappointing for a film made in 2019.
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood was marketed as much on the triumvirate of talent that heads its cast, as it was as being Tarantino’s ninth film and yet the gravitas of Robbie’s character in comparison to Pitt’s and Di Caprio’s is laughable.
I’m aware the film is set in the 1960s and I’m no expert on Sharon Tate, maybe all she did was smile, dance around and look sexy, but to me her role in the story (especially given Tarantino’s connections with Harvey Weinstein) was hardly a hearty endorsement of the post-“Me Too” era.
Tarantino has earnt the right to do what he wants of course, but from a personal point of view, I would like to have seen more of Robbie as an actress in her role as Tate. We all know she is pretty, but why not give her something mildly important to do as well Quentin?
Although I do not share their view, I did find a degree of validity in my friends’ criticism that the film is dull in places. There are certain re-enactments of sixties TV shows which I’m sure Tarantino with encyclopaedic knowledge of movies through the decades, Hollywood and the business that surrounds it, found hilarious but I couldn’t help but feeling as I sat in the silent cinema, that I, everyone else in the room and millions more around the world with much more flimsy knowledge of American film and TV in the 1960s were likely to be missing the punchline.
Despite the tumbleweed moments dotted sporadically about the cinema, there was enough to keep me entertained while Tarantino lined up all of his ducks ahead of the climax.
And when that climax hit it was well worth enduring the duller moments of the previous two hours: the scene exploding into a unique cocktail of chaos that Tarantino has always had a knack for creating.
For those wondering why the climax is so unique, I will simply tell you that it features a cigarette dipped in acid, a ferocious dog, a group of murderous hippies and a copious dollop of characteristically absurd Tarantino violence. This scene was Tarantino at his best as he once again demonstrated his gift for projecting situations you are unlikely ever to see again onto the screen.
The denouement following the chaos was less thrilling but wholly satisfying, as I left the cinema not only sure how Dalton and Booth’s futures would pan out but finally clear (after spending the best part of two hours wondering) what the purpose of Sharon Tate’s inclusion in the movie was.
Overall my view of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is that it probably didn’t quite live up to the hype was inevitably going to surround it given that the status of its cast coupled with Tarantino’s pull as a director. But neither was it dull and a complete failure as several people had tried to tell me.
My overriding emotion when it comes to Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is that it is not Pulp Fiction (probably nothing ever will be) but like everything Tarantino has done before it, it stands up as a credible vignette in his body of work. Anyone enamoured with Hollywood and the 1960s will probably think this is the most wonderful piece of film-making they have ever seen and I’m happy to acknowledge that if I knew more about the period the film is set in my viewing experience would have probably been sizably enhanced.
But alas, I do not and that is why Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to me, is simply a good film and nothing more.
Worth going to see, but maybe lower your expectations a touch. The film was always going to have to go some to live up to the hype that surrounded it.