Score: 3 stars *** out of 4 ****
There will be many critics and those among his dedicated fan base who will have plenty to find fault with in Quentin Tarantino’s latest effort "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and many of these complaints will be fully warranted. At 161 minutes, it is easily a half-hour too long. With some scenes that could have been eliminated completely and others that should have been heavily trimmed, "Hollywood" plays out like an epic still in need of a judicious final edit.
On the other hand, "Hollywood" is also the closest Tarantino has ever come to fully emulating the French New Wave mindset that has shown up to one degree or another in all of his previous films.
There are many segments in the movie which could easily make their way on to a "best of" QT highlight reel and the attention paid to its 1969 setting are stunningly and eerily accurate. From the music (always strong in QT films) to the visuals to the tinniest of incidental period details, "Hollywood" is virtually without peer.
Perhaps the most impressive facet of "Hollywood" is Tarantino’s somber acknowledgment of a time when the movie industry’s "Golden Age" was being usurped and taken over by its own upstart rebel filmmakers. The power of the studios had been waning for quite a while and — like the Woodstock festival and the Apollo 11 lunar landing at almost the same time — events taking place in the summer of 1969 would forever change the shape and direction of the U.S. One such event was the murder of actress Sharon Tate and others at the hands of those following the orders of Charles Manson (Damon Herriman).
Despite showing up in just one brief scene, the Manson character hangs over the narrative like an ominous dark cloud for its entirety. As for Tate (Margot Robbie and Tate herself in film clips), the exact opposite is true. An upbeat woman in love with movies almost as much as Tarantino, Robbie’s Tate dances and glides more than she speaks. Tarantino pays homage to Orson Welles’ "Touch of Evil" with a long shot taking place at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion with Tate, Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis), Tate’s ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) and other surprise real-life celebrities of the era.
Having worked with Tarantino one time each previously, Brad Pitt ("Inglourious Basterds") and Leonardo DiCaprio (“Django Unchained”) are the heart and soul of the story and not surprisingly make up one of the most endearing buddy "brah" couples in recent memory. Both on the other side of their respective leading man prime years, Pitt (as Cliff) and DiCaprio (as Rick) sport their well-earned crow’s feet as badges of honor for over-50 and over-40 men with Pitt in particular revealing bare pecs and abs that would make men half his age turn green with envy.
A veteran actor starring in late 1950s and early 1960s TV westerns, Rick is coming to the realization that his time has passed, a fact that his stunt double Cliff has known for a while.
Given a life line by power broker Marvin (Al Pacino channeling former Paramount president Robert Evans) to go to Italy and star in lucrative "spaghetti" westerns, Rick views this opportunity as a metaphorical and artistic slap in face but ultimately does so in order to pay his ever-escalating bills.
Ever since the May 2019 premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Tarantino, Sony/Columbia and their assorted representatives have asked, begged and implored the press not to reveal crucial plot points of "Hollywood" and that request will be honored here.
As a way of skating around these requests, here is what you can know going in without revealing anything whatsoever.
As in "Inglourious Basterds," Italian is spoken in the third act where people — fictional and otherwise — die graphic violent deaths. Catharsis will be enjoyed by viewers who subscribe to it and can get down with the idea of possible revisionist history.
Tarantino took big chances with "Hollywood" inasmuch as he chose to not give the masses what they were expecting. His, DiCaprio’s and Pitt’s individual followers will likely appreciate, if not love it but as a whole, not so much. Those looking for instant gratification will (apart from the bloody passages in the third act) will probably find it to be wanting.
Special admiration, attention and kudos need to be extended to Brandy the pit bull, Cliff’s loyal companion for the duration, her wranglers and the beyond brave performers who shared screen time with her. All of you deserve double battle pay. Brandy’s is one of the best non-human performances of all time.
In addition to Welles, Tarantino has crafted something that would certainly impress the likes of François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. It is decidedly non-commercial and is the type of movie which will gain respect and appreciation as time moves on. Even those who view it as only pretty good (like me) are likely to upgrade their assessments of it down the road. It is a classic in waiting.
Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.