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Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star in Sony Pictures' ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

I was correct in thinking that the whole Manson/Tate incident wouldn’t be at the center of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I didn’t have an issue with that, because there’s so much more you can build a story around when looking at the environment and time period that this takes place in. And if done properly, you could tie that stuff together and make an intriguing piece of cinema. That’s a daunting task that only the best filmmakers could probably pull off. Unfortunately, we were stuck with Quentin Tarantino at the helm.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood features Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as its main characters. They’re a couple of close friends who have worked together for years now as actor and stunt double respectively. Over the course of this feature, we get to know more about those two and the predicaments that each of them have to deal with. We’re also introduced to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and many of the people and circumstances that surrounded her back in 1969.

In my synopsis, you’ll notice that I didn’t give much of a story. That’s mostly because there isn’t one. We get a bunch of different things crammed into this, but none of it is really connected nor can you say that any of it is truly at the center of anything we get. When looking at it, nothing is given all that much importance by its writer/director.

We’re introduced to these characters and their circumstances, but none of it ever really goes anywhere as far as story and character arcs are concerned. This Tarantino directed picture touches on plenty of things throughout, but it never commits to anything and there’s almost never a payoff to any of what we’re presented with. Tarantino also doesn’t seem to believe he should have tied up many of the loose ends that come from most of this, but I guess that didn’t matter to him.

Even when you look at the whole Manson/Tate thing, it’s just there and isn’t really necessary. Tarantino predictably uses it to try to tie together what we sat through for nearly three hours, but it doesn’t really connect with whatever story he was trying (and failing) to tell. Not only that but how we get to this part is forced and not properly brought into the fold in a way that would allow it to fit in with all the other stuff that’s been included.

There had been a small bit of controversy surrounding Tarantino’s use of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. While he doesn’t use any of the characters to their full potential, she’s easily the one who was the furthest from reaching hers. That isn’t much of an issue in itself, but she doesn’t do anything outside of existing. Her performance is perfectly fine, but she doesn’t have much to do and almost all of her scenes could have been removed without consequence. 

In fact, it was so detached, you could have removed all of the Manson/Tate stuff without impacting anything else. All you would have to do is make a few minor adjustments and no one would have known that stuff was even supposed to be featured in this. Actually, cutting all of that out would have given Once Upon a Time in Hollywood more structure. It could have also allowed for what’s left to have an actual foundation to build on.

If Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was going to have a central focus (it should have), DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton dealing with certain aspects of his career and life should have been it. Not only is this one of the many things Tarantino introduces that doesn’t really amount to anything, it’s what thing we see when things open up. It’s also the meatiest portion of this flick as it allows one of the characters to have something to say and deal with.

Like Robbie’s Tate, Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth is mostly pointless as well. The difference is that he has more lines and you’re able to have some fun watching him. If Dalton was the center of everything, Booth could have been more important to most of what was going on since these two were such close friends here. Instead, when you think back on it, the stuntman mostly just drifts around and isn’t able to add as much as he probably could have.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood turns out to be nothing more than a waste of time. If Tarantino could have just tried to turn any of this into an authentic story, I might not be saying this. A movie focusing on these characters handled by a quality filmmaker could have been something. You have good actors doing good things in an old version of Hollywood that probably has tons of tales waiting to be told. There’s no real reason why any of this should have been misused to the degree that it was.

Removing all of the unnecessary nonsense, shortening the film and at least trying to craft a real story could have turned this into a movie with potential. Instead, we get something that I’ll gladly never watch again. That’s not because I disliked everything. It’s the fact that it’s nearly three hours for no reason while it’s not even able to qualify as an actual movie in my humble opinion.

Rating: R

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Leonardo DiCaprio
Brad Pitt
Margot Robbie
Emile Hirsch
Al Pacino
Dakota Fanning
Kurt Russell
Luke Perry
Margaret Qualley
Timothy Olyphant
Austin Butler
Bruce Dern

Film Length: 165 minutes

Release Date: July 26, 2019

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

  • 4/10
    Score - 4/10
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