7.5/10 Quentin Tarantino is one of my top three favorite writer/directors of all time and this was my most anticipated film in all of 2019 so no one was more excited for this film than I was. Although I really did like and enjoy this film (enough to see it three separate times…so far), I must admit I was disappointed with the final product compared to other Tarantino films. It is almost impossible for me to rank his nine directed films (although once his filmography is complete, I’m sure I will try) but this would definitely be in the bottom half of his body of work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since even his weakest film (“Death Proof”) is still an overall good film worth exploring. Let’s start off with what works with this film. First off, there really are very few original directors in Hollywood these days where each film they make is an event to be celebrated and cherished. Tarantino’s love of Hollywood, film, film making, actors, etc. are all on display and his passion for the subject material really comes across and is inspiring. Like all of his films, he has written some entertaining, colorful characters that feel just as real as the real life characters in the film. I actually think Tarantino is underrated when it comes to how funny his scripts can be and this is probably his funniest film yet that had me laughing at multiple moments. This film has a lot of heart to it, is nostalgic in a good way and is the most reflective out of all of Tarantino’s films. The acting is absolutely flawless and it is really hard to tell if Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt gives the better performance because they are both pretty perfect in their respective roles. We have never seen DiCaprio so vulnerable and lacking confidence as he is here and this is the most fun and badass that Pitt has been in as long as I can remember. Having never worked together before, our two male leads have palpable chemistry and makes me wish they had even more screen time together. There is a little girl (Julia Butters) who plays an actress in a western TV show with DiCaprio whom absolutely steals the scenes she is in and was extremely impressive and mature for her age. All of the below the line aspects of the film are exceptional and I can easily see Oscar nominations for cinematography, production design and costume design. The recreation of 1969 Hollywood has such attention to detail and the fact that they used practical, real locations and props as opposed to CGI, really immerses you in this era. The narrative structure with its flashbacks and time jumps kept things feeling fresh, in typical Tarantino fashion. The best aspect of the film for me was its ending, which is the first time I have ever said that about a Tarantino film. His films have so many great scenes throughout the beginning (“Inglourious Basterds”) and middle (“Kill Bill”) of them that the best parts can really come at any time. Yet for the first time, the last 20 minutes of this film really steal the show and go from funny to violent to sentimental all with a graceful ease that was extremely memorable. Which is not to say there were not great scenes before the ending. A scene with Bruce Lee is one of the best moments in the film (despite SJWs complaining about it) and Sharon Tate going to the theater to watch one of her movies was also a very bright spot in the film. Despite all there is to admire, allow me to dive into why I was overall slightly letdown and expected a little bit more from one of my favorite film makers of all time. There are many similarities and connecting threads in Tarantino’s filmography from fake products to actors he uses to homages, etc. One staple of Tarantino’s films have been how well he builds tension. For a film over 2 hours and 40 minutes, there were only two scenes of tension, the first of which, ultimately doesn’t go anywhere too climactic and left me wanting more. I love long running times for films that are great to watch, especially when we only get a film once every four years or so from Tarantino but this has been the first time where one of his movies has dragged and could have benefited from some editing to trim the fat and tighten things up a bit. If this was an extended director’s cut, that would be one thing but for a theatrical release, the film begins to wander and meander a bit. For example, there is a scene where Roman Polanski comes outside in the morning, walks to a little bench/table, sips some coffee and throws a ball to his dog. The following scene is just a slow pan of Sharon Tate sleeping in her bed and lightly snoring. Both of those scenes really served no purpose in the story and if they would have been cut, nothing in the film would have changed. The Tate sleeping scene just felt like an excuse to show Margot Robbie’s bare feet again (since Tarantino has a foot fetish and this film has more feet in it than any of his other films). There were also many extended driving scenes that went on a little too long and felt more like an excuse to show off the film’s cars and production design than to actually benefit or strengthen the film. Tarantino is also known for his brilliant use of music in regards to his soundtracks. Although there is plenty of era appropriate music to nod your head to here, the soundtrack felt more like a “1960s Greatest Hits” album was sprinkled throughout the film without any of the particular songs fitting specifically to one scene. You could have substituted and interchanged most of these songs with each other and it wouldn’t have mattered. His other films have songs that very specifically go with a specific, designated scene, but the music didn’t feel nearly as calculated here. The only major exception is The Rolling Stones’ “Out Of Time”, which couldn’t have gone anywhere else in the film and was perfect for what was going on on the screen while it played. I just wish more of the film would have felt like that with its use of music. Another bit of a tease was the sprawling cast. When the cast was announced or when you see all of the big names during the opening credits, you get excited to see so many big names packed into one film. It ends up being disappointing though when 90% of these extremely talented actors only appear in the film for one scene and sometimes, only a matter of seconds. It felt a little misleading to market such an epic cast when most are barely in the picture. As minor of a complaint as this is, I also didn’t really like how despite not labeling with words on the screen whom some real people were like Sharon Tate, Mama Cass, Charles Manson, etc., Tarantino did feel the need to spoon feed audiences the names of other famous individuals like Steve McQueen, Jay Sebring, etc. There was also a name or two (Tim Roth) in the ending credits for someone whom wasn’t even in the theatrical film, which makes no sense. It would be one thing to have an edited end credits sequence for the extended cut when certain actors are put back into the film but to have names of people who weren’t in the film we just saw is strange. Finally, although still better than having Tarantino distractingly narrate himself, it was still a mistake to have Kurt Russell narrate the end of the film because he already plays a character in the film so it ultimately felt out of place and distracting. It would have made more sense to have someone like Samuel L. Jackson do the narrating since he wasn’t in the film and briefly did the same thing for Tarantino in “Inglourious Basterds”. I’m also not a fan of the acting of Zoe Bell, whom plays Kurt Russell’s wife. Even though she is one of the best Hollywood stunt women in real life, her brief, shouty screen time made me wish someone else would have been cast instead. Despite the need of some editing, a slightly less focused soundtrack, a lack of tension and a cast not fully maximized in terms of screen time, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” is a fun, original, nostalgic, often hilarious, bromantic, memorable, expertly made piece of film making and if Tarantino does indeed retire from film making after his next film, just like the Tate murders and the end of the 1960s were the end of an era, Tarantino’s retirement will also be considered the end of an era that will make us cinephiles long for a time when he was still making great Hollywood films.
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