Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Film Review #110

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
Director: Quentin Tarantino Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Luke Perry, Julia Butters, Damian Lewis

Certificate: 18 Running Time: 161 Minutes

Tagline: "The 9th Film from Quentin Tarantino."

Not so long ago, the impending release of a new film by Quentin Tarantino was met with fevered excitement and expectation from his many loyal fans, as well as film fans generally, but that doesn't seem to be so much the case these days. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, for example, his very latest release, hasn't received as much hype or anticipation as some of his past releases, from my perspective at least. Perhaps that is just my mistaken impression though, and I suppose it doesn't matter much anyway - it is here, and I for one have been very much awaiting what amounts to the penultimate QT release in the history of the universe. Assuming, that is, he sticks to his word and only makes ten films. That will make it even sadder if it sucks donkey balls, but with a cast like this, how can it?

Rick 'n' Cliff ponder their next move...
As with many QT films, the cast is sizeable and includes some of his regulars (though not Sam Jackson this time, surprisingly), but is headed by Messrs DiCaprio and Pitt as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth respectively. Dalton is a Hollywood actor who fears his best years are behind him. He was the star of fictional Western TV show, Bounty Law, on which Cliff also worked as his stunt double, but the show was cancelled and he's now struggling to get cast in TV pilots and independent films, while Cliff is now little more than his lackey, driving him around and doing odd jobs. He also happens to live on Cielo Drive in LA, next door to up-and-coming film director Roman Polanski and his recently-married wife, Sharon Tate (Robbie), who he wants to befriend in the hopes of improving his own situation and restoring his status.

Sharon struts her stuff at a star-studded party...
This coincidental proximity does of course means we also get the odd run-in with the Manson Family, as was widely publicised prior to the film's release, although there isn't nearly as much emphasis on them as I'd expected going in. We get a quick look at Charlie himself but it's mainly his loopy 'family' of hippies we spend time with, most notably a young hotty known as Pussycat (Qualley) who catches Cliff's eye, and Tex (Butler) who seems to be Manson's right-hand man. Much more time is spent with Rick 'n' Cliff though, both in pursuit of their current endeavours, and also in flashbacks to their more successful years. In fact, that's about all there is. What this basically means is, there isn't too much of a story here.

Yes, this is Cliff fighting Bruce Lee...
You could well argue that clearly definable plots are not often QT's forte really, but for me at least, this latest example does seem a bit directionless. We do get quite a few scenes of Rick doing acting, past and present, and while they are as well acted and directed as you would expect given the talent involved, they don't contribute much to the film besides increasing its running time. Some of them are pretty nice, such as Dalton's conversation with a young actress on the set of a Western he's filming, but there are others that make you wonder why you're seeing them. It's the same thing with the other major characters too. Cliff gets a couple of flashbacks including a slightly controversial one which shows Bruce Lee being a dick, and we also get to see Sharon Tate going to a cinema to watch herself in a film, but few scenes show any indications of an actual story emerging.

Dalton in action in one of his Westerns...
On the other hand, you could say the story doesn't matter too much so long as the film is entertaining, and it is to varying degrees for the most part. There's more humour than with any other QT film by my reckoning, including some real laugh out loud moments, and it's as stylish as any of his previous films including a fantastic 60's aesthetic. It's also fun catching all the pop-culture references the film is packed with, including nods to many real people, locations and events of the period, and there are a few actor cameos to look out for too. It's also impossible to talk about a QT film without mentioning the soundtrack which is once again top notch. Unsurprising, the vast majority are rock and pop songs of the era but there are some corking tunes here, and most tie into each scene perfectly.

Pussycat definitely not flirting with Cliff...
Overall then, this much anticipated film - the second-to-last one we will supposedly ever see from this charismatic director - is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It looks and sounds fantastic, features some wonderful acting talent, is pretty funny, and offers an intriguing look back at not only a historic time in the entertainment industry but also at one of the most notorious cults of modern times, but at the same time it feels disjointed and doesn't really seem like it's heading anywhere. Only near the very end of its extensive runtime does something major actually happen. It's a memorable ending though, that's for sure, and it is a pretty good film too, all things considered. Tarantino's so-called 'love letter to 60's Hollwood' is self-indulgent and bloated (at least 30 minutes could've been cut), even boring on occasion, but it's still Tarantino, and for most that means the good will outweigh the bad.

RKS Score: 7/10


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