Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood (2019)
You know what you’re getting with a Tarantino film. Retro love letters, slickly produced, with vivid colours and sharp needle drops. This is no different, long drawn out scenes, beautifully shot in the Hollywood hills. It all starts happily, pool parties, driving cars in the sunshine, but this is Tarantino, it’s not going to remain pleasant. There’s a tangible tension and threat of violence, largely due to the thread of Charles Manson’s infamous Tate murders running through the story. That’s only part of what’s on offer here though, the DiCaprio/Pitt double act for a large portion of the film drives the narrative, before finally connecting, in a fictional melting pot. Now there’s often an issue when depicting true events with the sort of sheen that Tarantino employs and that’s most evident in some of the casting here. Most of the main players are fine, Pitt in particular, but then his role is essentially fictional. DiCaprio is fine too, but doesn’t really fit the TV cowboy he’s meant to be. Damian Lewis playing bit part Steve McQueen is way off though and there’s some inexplicably narrated exposition. It’s niggling things like this that spoil Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood. Much has been made of the Bruce Lee depiction too, but as pretty awful as Lee is, Pitt again steals the scene. He does that a lot, take him out of this and you’ve got a much worse off film. This is Pitts thing though, cool Americana, embracing it’s ridiculousness. The whole thing is dusty and bathed in sunshine, whether the streets of 1969 LA or the mock western film set that DiCaprio works on as he tries to rekindle his failing acting career and curtail his drinking. This slow brooding atmosphere works well, as seeds are sown for impending violence, which is largely bottled until the final act. I have to say though, when it lands, boy does it. Knowing what we know about the true events on Cielo Dr, this telling is nothing short of spectacular. It’s not his best film by a long way, but it is better than recent outings. Not everyone likes Tarantino, but I loved this.