REVIEW: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

★★★★ | Zach Hester


In some ways, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels like a fairytale. While audiences might think they know what to expect from the film as they head into theaters, I can almost guarantee that you will not see THIS ending coming. 

The ninth (and apparently penultimate) film from Quentin Tarantino imagines the world of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an aging, fictional actor whose star is falling as he fails to make a career transition from television to film. Along with his stunt double and best friend, Cliff Boothe (Brad Pitt), Dalton seeks to navigate the changing world of Hollywood in 1969. Oh, and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is involved…sort of. 

Let’s start with the bad news: for the majority of its runtime, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood doesn’t feel like a Tarantino movie. It has plenty of the director’s classic tropes, which include excessive cursing and long dialogues, but lacks the Tarantino magic until the last 45 minutes kick things into overdrive. 

The almost 3 hour runtime unfortunately doesn’t feel justified. While I stated upon leaving the theater that some parts were “boring,” I’m not sure that this was the right word. I think “tedious” might fit better. The long scenes of dialogue here are used a little too much in a way that doesn’t always move the narrative forward, but I do like seeing how these characters act in scenarios that normally wouldn’t find a place onscreen in any other director’s film. 

Now, we move to the good, or dare I say, the phenomenal. Every actor in this movie is a star. The movie itself is a commentary on fame and these gigantic movie stars like DiCaprio and Pitt do not disappoint. Pitt was especially award worthy in this role. From the stunt coordination he provided in fight scenes to the lax way he delivers even the most vicious dialogue, Pitt is the focus anytime he’s onscreen. 

Margot Robbie, who plays the late Sharon Tate, is excellent, but underused. One scene in particular that stands out to me is one where the young starlet goes to a local movie theater to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew. She plays on the innocence of this once-budding actress in a way that will leave you wondering what could’ve been had she not been brutally killed by the Manson family in 1969.

That brings things to my final point: the ending. In case you missed the spoiler warning at the beginning, *HERE’S A SPOILER*, Tarantino bucks real life events and Sharon Tate does not die. It’s something that I would’ve never seen coming, but after spending time falling in love with Robbie’s portrayal of Tate, I don’t think there would’ve been any scenario where it felt appropriate to have the movie follow the real life events and watch her mutilated. 

Instead, the cult members involved in the Tate murders descend on Rick Dalton’s house and are mercilessly killed in perfect Tarantino fashion by Pitt’s character and his dog, Brandy. 

The ending is divisive for sure, but I think one thing most will agree on is that some of the best scenes in the film are the ones involving those in the “Manson family.” They’re mostly treated as “dirty hippies” as opposed to the cult murderers we know them to be, but this portrayal does shine a light on what things could have been like if Tate and her houseguests had not been the target that night. 

In more ways than one, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an ode to the Golden Age of film. While its ensemble cast does make things crowded from time to time, overall, the story flows better than expected. In spite of its flaws, I desperately hope that this will not be this exceptional director’s next-to-last film. There will never be enough Tarantino to go around.