Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Cannes Journal: Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood

Movie Rating:


The fable-like title (an obvious allusion to Leone) and Quentin Tarantino’s track record of toying with history should give you a pretty good hint about what’s in store with his latest film. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is set in 1969, and broadly speaking the film covers the era of the Manson murders, where a series of brutal crimes shattuered a kind of cloistered complacency for the elite of Tinsletown and exposed a dark side to the hippie dream.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an actor who has gone from his heyday as a star to supporting roles as the bad guy. His stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), has a history of his own, and is now relegated to driving Rick from gig to gig. They represent the changing of the guard. Television is taking over from film and their way of being is getting supplanted by the changing atmosphere. We get extended sequences showing Rick’s projects, allowing Tarantino to imagine a past where these movies and shows existed as is.

This kind of creative freedom extends to the rest of the timeline, which is best experienced for oneself. Suffice it to say that the film is part of a loose trilogy of sorts, joining Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained in being unafraid to mess with the historical record. Tarantino seems to achieve the best balance yet here, perhaps driven by a commitment to do justice to the horrors of the Manson story while still able to make things his way. His previous films dealt with Nazis and slavery, big themes hard to codify on an individual basis. With specific events as a touchstone, his diversions are even more resonant this time.

With a stupendous cast including Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, and a luminous Margot Robbie playing Sharon Tate, there’s much to fall for, and the three-hour running time whisks by. The supremely well-drawn pairing of Pitt and DiCaprio really makes the film shine. The source music selection is ace, as can be expected. The 35mm photography is great, and the world of L.A. is presented in all its wild self.

Bombastic and brilliant, Quentin Tarantino’s latest feels like his most mature and assured. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood will surely provoke some and surprise others, but a film with this much depth, humor, darkness, and boldness is one to grow with and appreciate over time. This is a film to be reckoned with, easily one of the year’s best.


  1. Bolo

    Really looking forward to this one. It’ll be nice to see Pacino get some material worthy of his talent again.

    I also hope this film triggers the 4K release of Tarantino’s other films, or at least the ‘Kill Bill’ ones.

  2. Chris B

    Well, this is a rather exciting development. Can’t wait to see it in the theatre on a hot summer night in July. Great review.

  3. Deaditelord

    I’m somewhat surprised by all the positive reviews. While the second half of the movie is fantastic, I found the first half very slow and meandering with many scenes dragging on for far too long and often not pertaining to the main story.

    Shannon Tate is the perfect example of this. Outside of one scene, her character is used in a mostly unrelated (and, for me, uninteresting) side plot to the main story. Since the movie’s primary focus is on Dalton and Booth, cutting out the majority of her scenes would have improved the pacing and the movie immensely.

    Another gripe: What’s with all the shots of character’s just driving their cars around the city? Lose them.

    There are some other scenes I’d trim down too, but those were the ones that stood out the most. A shame because once the story gets going I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It just takes an inordinately long time to get that point so I’m surprised reviews haven’t been more critical of the glacial pace during that first hour+.

    • Julian

      “Another gripe: What’s with all the shots of character’s just driving their cars around the city? Lose them.”

      Isn’t that something certain films just like to do? What’s with all the shots of trees in ‘The Revenant’? Why so many stares in ‘Twilight’? Why so many establishing shots in ‘The Room’? 🙂

      • Deaditelord

        Normally I would agree Julian, but we’re talking about unusually long stretches (multiple minutes) where characters get in their car and drive through the city doing nothing. I get that Tarantino wants us to marvel at how well he recreated the 1960s, but they last so long that it destroys pacing.

        I don’t mind slow paced movies. Chinatown is a classic. Blade Runner I would put it in my top 10 movies of all time. However neither of those films indulge the way Once Upon A Time In Hollywood does during it’s first half and eventually I just wanted the movie to quit screwing around and get to the main story.

        • Julian

          I understand! I have yet to see ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’, so I’m curious to find out if these long stretches of driving bother me too.

      • Deaditelord

        I shouldn’t have used the word shots to describe the extended driving scenes in my 1st comment. I was in a hurry when I wrote it and didn’t catch the mistake 🙂

    • Bolo

      I would agree. Once the film gets going, it’s steadily pretty entertaining and eventually puts the pieces it sets up to fun use. But all those long multi-song montages of characters driving from point A to point B just bored me. It just felt like one was piled on top of the other during the first third of the film. I just wanted the film to get on with itself and give its characters something to do or say.

    • I found this to be QT’s most intimate and personal film. It’s not a plot-driven film. It’s all about the impact that Hollywood has on a four characters: Rick Dalton, a great actor who’s career is slipping away from him; Cliff Booth, Rick’s loyal friend, a charismatic stuntman whose personal life has ruined his career; Sharon Tate, a Hollywood up-and-comer filled with promise, hope, and grace; and Charles Manson’s “family,” a group of mindless sheep who do whatever their fame-chasing manipulative leader tells them to do. Although it can be perceived as slow and boring, the first half establishes these characters over a two-day span. If it didn’t take its time, then you wouldn’t have the parallels that make this such a rich and meaty cinematic experience (SPOILER example: Cliff is to Rick as the Family is to Manson – Cliff does anything and everything for Rick). Although I personally enjoyed soaking them in, I can see why the long car shots would bore some viewers, but the pacing of the first half is critical for understanding where Rick, Cliff, and Sharon are coming from. Considering the film is about them – not a plot – Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood would be nothing more than a series of vignettes without the first half.

      • Deaditelord

        I would agree that the movie not being narrative-driven likely played a large part in why I thought the first half was sluggish. Even so, I would still argue for cutting Sharon Tate’s character out of the movie. Margot Robbie’s performance isn’t the issue. (She’s great.) However, if you look at it just from a plot perspective and consider Tarantino’s treatment of factual events, Tate’s character really isn’t needed at all. Without getting into spoilers, it would be very easy to make one minor change, write her character out and still end up resolving everything with Dalton, Booth and Manson the same way. Trim down some of the driving scenes too and personally I think you end up with a movie that is still strong from a character perspective, but better paced.

        That’s just my opinion though. Just because I had some problems with the movie doesn’t mean everyone else enjoying it is wrong. 🙂

  4. Gary Waldock

    Despite the fact that Tarantino stories are not for everyone, he is nevertheless a true genius. I would not shave a single minute from any of his films but my taste runs to multi-textured stories and I am a sucker for history and nostalgia. That said, I came of age in the 1960s / early 1970s so what is boring to many millennials is a very welcome sojourn to memory lane to fossils like me. I remember history like nobody born later than 1970 will ever fathom, having witnessed first hand the chaos following the assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, and others, the British Invasion that permanently altered rock and pop music, young men’s ever-present “Sword of Damocles” of being Drafted into the Vietnam War meat-grinder, 1960s San Francisco when it was a beautiful place full of hippies (instead of the irredeemable cesspool that it has become), the horror of Manson’s insanity, the first Moon landing and other momentous occurrences

    I also appreciate tales that take their time with set-up, unlike the no-patience-required “meat & potatoes” of many contemporary stories. I admit to loving so-called “slow starting” movies like Alien, Blade Runner, Psycho, 2001, Once Upon A Time In The West, Doctor Zhivago, The Innocents, Chinatown, etc., etc., so I have high hopes that “once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” will be another Tarantino masterpiece.

    • Julian

      Agreed. When a movie’s good, I love a slow pace because it allows you to really step into its world, and stay there. Savouring all the little details. That’s why I love love ‘Meet Joe Black’ at three hours (even though most here hate it), and that’s why I’m a big fan of both ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Drop’ (which had a very slow first hour, all for the better, in my opinion).

    • Barsoom Bob

      Welcome to the old geezers club dude, couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. Had a blast with this movie.
      Hilarious, during Dalton’s Hulabaloo dance sequence, he’s singing about “behind the green door”, you and I know why that is so funny. Thoroughly enjoyed that first hour.

  5. Nathan

    Best movie of the year so far, and probably QT’s greatest achievement so far. Hopefully this year’s Oscar telecast will have a legit winner in this film unlike the past few years where it’s been nothing but subpar garbage who won for their PC message and not the quality of the film itself.

  6. Chris B

    Saw it last night an really enjoyed it. Its not QT’s best movie but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and worth the price of admission. I only wish QT had throttled back on the brutality in a certain scene because it seems to undercut the (dare I say sweetness?) of the rest of the movie and will only give his critics more ammunition. Ah well, that’s “Hollywood” for ya.

    • I know what you mean. That scene just about crossed the line of what I can handle. I was on the brink of looking away when it finally stopped. I think my biggest complaint with it comes from the fact that its brutality isn’t a tonal match for this film. Had it happened in Basterds or Django, it would have been fitting – but here it felt a little out of place.

      Having said that, I absolutely love this film. It would have taken to massive derail in order for to become disenchanted with it.

      • Chris B

        Yeah it was entertaining as hell and better than just about everything i’ve seen so far this year. All the long driving seauences were glorious imho and I wouldn’t shave a single minute of any of them.

        It sort of felt like a Grand Theft Auto game (set in 1969 Los Angeles) had come to life and this huge world had been created for us viewers to revel in.

        I can’t wait to buy the film on home video and watch all the special features and see all of the hard work that went into the production design. Absolutely outstanding stuff.

        • In the US, Netflix recently released The Hateful Eight as a four-part mini-series. At first, it looked like an episodic rehash of the extended Roadshow Cut, but I read an interview with QT where he said that he added all of the deleted content back into it, re-edited it to make it flow, and was extremely well-pleased with the final product. He said that he loves the mini-series format and it tempted to re-edit his old movies into the same format with all of his beloved deleted content. The initial compilation of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood ran four hours and 20 minutes. I’d love to see all of that put into the episodic extended format. Then we’d get James Marsden as Burt Reynolds and Tim Roth as a member of Kurt Russell’s stunt team.

          • Julian

            ‘James Marsden as Burt Reynolds’, eh? And Burt Reynolds was supposed to play a part in the movie. Imagine if he had encountered James Marsden as himself. Would the encounter have created a time paradox?

          • Bolo

            I like his work, but the only Tarantino movie I actually wanted to be longer was ‘Django Unchained’. The last portion of the film with Django being sold back into slavery, breaking free, and working his way back to Candy’s plantation felt really rushed. I enjoyed the whole movie and liked the Schultz character, but it felt like it really only became Django’s movie for the final quarter.

    • Gary Waldock

      I believe that the juxtaposition of the free love, awesome music and drug hazed 1960s vs. the unfathomably grisly violence of the STUPID Vietnam War, Kent State massacres by Ohio Nat. Guard in 1970, and yes, the murderous insanity Tate / La Bianca barbarism is PRECISELY TARANTINO’S POINT. This was an era of harsh contrasts that had to be experienced to fully appreciate. Any critics that are survivors of that age will probably understand that the violence is not gratuitous …

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