‘Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans…’
The films of Quentin Tarantino have been a spiral of diminishing returns since the explosive Inglourious Basterds in 2009. Both Django Unchained and, to a lesser extent, The Hateful Eight had flashes of the master directors former genius, both suffer from his inability to end a film without resorting to cartoonish violence – the kind that negates everything that has gone before it. Having been vaguely aware of reviews stating that … Hollywood was Tarantino’s best film in years, I went into his ninth picture hoping that he had managed to conquer the curse of the conclusion. I was to be disappointed…
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an ageing Hollywood star with his best years behind him. His stunt double and fixer Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) supports Rick to overcome his insecurities in order to cling to stardom. Dalton’s fall from grace takes place against the backdrop of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) being, quite literally, the girl next door and the Manson Family lurking in the background.
That is a lot of star power for one movie, not to mention the exhaustive supporting players and while the cast excels, particularly Brad Pitt who delivers his best performance in years, the structure of the story suffers because of it. This is a film about an over-the-hill actor, no it’s a film about a well meaning but unhinged stuntman, or is it a film about a wide-eyed movie star living her dream? And it’s also a love letter to Hollywood’s golden age. Basically, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be and while Tarantino had a chance to clarify this in the climactic final scene, he instead falls back on his default of silly, over-the-top violence that once again serves to undermine the solid foundations that have already been laid.
That’s not to say that …Hollywood is a failure because it isn’t. This is Tarantino’s most focused and less self indulgent movie since Basterds and that is a step in the right direction. And, frustratingly, once again there are moments that make you remember why he was once the most exciting director in Hollywood. Pitt and DiCaprio share an electric chemistry and while Robbie feels a little wasted, she inhabits the role of Sharon Tate so completely that it barely matters.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like a missed opportunity. Tarantino claims he will retire after his tenth picture so by my count he has one last attempt to get it right. …Hollywood could have been it but I’m sad to say that it wasn’t quite there.