Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood takes the world on another wonky-Western-Adventure-Comedy-époque by Quentin Tarantino. In his 9th film (Kill Billvol.1&2 count as a single film, folks), Tarantino gives us the surface story of an aging actor who maybe is not cutting it anymore (Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton) and his shadow of a stunt double (Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth) as they navigate the late 1960s' Hollywood atmosphere. Tarantino pens the script full of pop culture references and his own view on the people, places, and things of the period. Follow that up with the stacked supporting cast, of which there is not enough space to fully list, we have ourselves a bona fide Tarantino film. Did he continue his legacy with this summer splash? Or are we just going to be saying "what was that?" for the next decade?
Plot...or Plot?:Do not watch this film and try to "figure it out" as you will be disappointed. Essentially, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has as much plot as Pulp Fiction did back when it stunned audiences. The film sprinkles in real-life figures of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Bruce Lee (played charismatically by Mike Moh), and the Manson Family just to name the big stars of the decade. However, these characters are solely in place to illustrate the flaws and dreams of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. Individual scenes that tell a larger story is the entire film. The audience has to accept that Tarantino actively builds on his two main characters but not in the traditional narrative. Using real influential people of the past (whether for good or bad) to illustrate Dalton and Booth is the "plot" but it certainly can leave some to desire for those who aren't looking for a pseudo biopic.
DiCaprio/Pitt:There are two very different performances from DiCaprio and Pitt in this film. To begin, it is crucial to note that both of these characters cemented their place on the list of memorable Tarantino creations. With that said, we get nothing different from Brad Pitt. Instead, we are reminded of his subtle comedic skills that have not been a film's highlight since his work with the Coen Brothers on Burn After Reading. Sure, Inglorious Basterds was a comedic achievement and role for Pitt, but that was a different role that had little to do with Pitt and more with the script. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino allowed Pitt to combine his roles of Aldo Raine and Chad Felheimer. This simply delivers Pitt's best performance. Now, what was different about DiCaprio in this film? EVERYTHING! Rick Dalton in the first half of this film is the most depressing, self-destructive, pathetic, vulnerable character that DiCaprio has ever attempted. And he absolutely nails it. You may even walk away from the film believing DiCaprio himself feels washed up. Rick Dalton needed an actor who has not been in that position of failure for a natural and vulnerable approach to ignite the role. And that is what DiCaprio accomplished in this film.
Theme as a Character:Reputation, desired youth, and fantasy flood Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Rick's reflection of his career which revolves around wanting to be younger and needing the confidence of producers can only be a snapshot of what most real-life actors experience. Cliff faces his fantasies infused with youth. Really at the end of the film, we are given the already popular thesis that Hollywood is centered around the dreams and fantasies of the hopeful youth only to be crushed as they have no traction. The expectations the audience has of our characters, based on historical reputation, is shattered. These last two points are shockingly crafted in possibly the most jaw-dropping ending to a Tarantino film wherein he drives home the themes within Dalton and Booth.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is arguably the most successful in storytelling that Tarantino has approached since Pulp Fiction. DiCaprio and Pitt bring some of their best work. And the line between reality and fantasy is tip-toed with a script that only Tarantino can produce. Without a doubt, this is a Quentin Tarantino film — which should be enough for anyone to watch.