Once Upon A Time Is the Revisionist Movie You Didn’t Know You Needed

Tarantino is truly a master of his craft

by Alex Wolz

Staff Roger Ebert

I must admit, when I finished watching Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, I really didn’t know what to think. I walked away with some satisfaction, but an even more dominant sense of confusion. But upon doing some research, everything changed, and I realized that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is easily one of Tarantino’s most brilliant films yet, and something close to a masterpiece.
This past summer, amidst a desire to see Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, it seemed like the perfect time to become invested in the world of Quentin Tarantino and I instantly fell in love with his work. His film style is akin to that of an older age. So often today there is a focus on sequels or money-making blockbusters. However, Tarantino appreciates the nuisances of film and the craft itself, something that is often lost in the filmmaking of today.

Tarantino’s latest film is a testament to the older film age in which he grew up, 1960s Hollywood. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood follows the adventures of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a successful Western actor, and his stunt double, Cliff Boothe (Brad Pitt), as they try to maintain success in the entertainment industry. The fictional story of Rick and Cliff seamlessly melds with a far deeper story that is silently taking over Hollywood.

The first two hours of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood are simply glorious. Tarantino displays a level of expertise in his ability to follow the mundane every-day activities of his immensely well-thought-out characters and does so in a thoroughly engaging manner. While this film may be more linear than what we have come to expect from Tarantino, the environment and characters are deeper than ever before, driving the plot forward equally as successfully as the multi-faceted plots of some of his other films. The recreation of 1969 Hollywood in the film is breathtaking, as the buildings, vehicles, landscapes, outfits, and dialogue are all evocative of an entirely different era. While I have never experienced Hollywood personally, the film provided a level of immersion that transported me to another age of Hollywood.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood displays perhaps the greatest level of cinematography in Tarantino’s career thus far, with a massive variety of techniques that are frequently awe-inspiring and keep the audience engaged in the beauty of the world over the course of the two hour and forty minute runtime, a staple of Tarantino’s films. Unlike some of his other work, the time flies by and every moment feels warranted and necessary. While his formula for cinematography may remain the same, Tarantino has continually developed as a director. He displays a great sense of precision in directing this film, more so than many of his earlier works. There is also a great balance of color within the film, as the earthy tones of the costumes blend in well with the desert landscapes and the bright neon signs shine in the night among dimly lit streetlamps. This attention to detail creates eye candy for the audience even when it seems as though nothing significant is happening, a skill that Tarantino has developed throughout his career, and is put to its best use yet in this film.

Tarantino’s detail-oriented directing carries into the characters as well. He invests so deeply in and builds such an extensive lore behind them, that the audience comes to know them in all their quirks and intricacies, backgrounds and careers, emotions and lifestyles. Both the fictional and factual are fully realized as if they are both part of the real world. Tarantino films every scene in such a satisfying manner and develops his characters to the point where the audience is intrigued by even the most basic of their activities, such as Sharon Tate sitting in the movie theater or Cliff fixing a satellite radar. It is a pleasure to be a silent spectator in the lives of these characters.

Beyond cinematography, the cast is the driving force of the film. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt deliver tremendous performances, with each receiving their own moments to shine, while also having entertaining camaraderie with one another as well. Margot Robbie delivers a solid performance as well, even in the limited role with which she is presented. Perhaps more importantly, the film serves to add a bit of respect and remembrance to her real-life counterpart, Sharon Tate.

In regards to real-life counterparts, this is where the film becomes something quite a bit more than just a film. For those who do not know, like myself when I first saw the film, Sharon Tate was a real individual. Tate was a star of 1960s Hollywood who was murdered by the Manson family, a cult of individuals who sought to take down the successful members of Hollywood. In addition to Tate, there are details, plot threads, and characters that are entirely real as well. After doing some research, I realized that Tarantino was planting seeds throughout for an overarching plot connected to the Manson family.

Tarantino’s film is very much a faithful representation of 1960s Hollywood, but it is still primarily work of fiction. This aspect of fiction comes into play in the film’s later half, when Tarantino takes the tragic murder of Sharon Tate and spins it in a new direction, one that makes the audience think of what Hollywood could have become if it were not for the Manson family. In all its curiosity, brutality, and insanity, Tarantino’s ending most poignantly shows is a tremendous ability to merge the worlds of both fiction and reality. To an unknowing audience, the events of the film could be perceived as either wholly fictitious or real, with the two worlds blending so seamlessly that the viewer cannot even tell the difference, a true masterpiece of filmmaking.

One may wonder, just as I do, why Tarantino chose to pursue such a unique storyline for the penultimate film in his illustrious career. Yet after a quick analysis, it becomes quite clear. Tarantino grew up in the age of 1960s Hollywood, walked the same streets as those seen in the film, and wanted to give audiences today that same sense of awe he felt as a child. It is certainly controversial subject matter, and people will always take offense when one attempts to reimagine the past, but this is Tarantino’s own imagined story of Hollywood, one of which he is in full control. With an absolutely stellar cast, beautiful cinematography, a wildly unique and entertaining storyline, and an incredible sense of awareness, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is a film made with both skill and passion, and the control and brilliance of a director who clearly understands the art of filmmaking, even forty years past the world which he envisioned.

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