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Taranthon Film Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) is the ninth and latest film to be directed by Quentin Tarantino. Focusing on Hollywood in 1969, right before the incident of the Manson murders, this film tells a fiction-based story around an actor, Rick Dalton, who is realising that his career is going downhill. This film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie in the role of Sharon Tate, one of the victims of the Manson murders.

Given by the huge cast in this list, it is obvious that the action is going to be superb here. My favourite performance easily goes to Leonardo DiCaprio, who has to be a serious contender for Best Actor this awards season. Pitt and Robbie also do a great job with the roles that they get here, but one surprise here comes from Margaret Qualley who plays one of the members in the Manson family. She is captivating on screen and steals any scene that she is in. There is also a small cameo sequence featuring an up-and-coming actress which is fantastic, and I will not spoil who it is here.
What made this film great is how much of an homage it was to 1960s cinema. This film showed all aspects of filmmaking, from behind and in front of the screen to being an audience member and appreciating the cinema. It even managed to highlight some of the cinema workers and what they do to enhance the cinematic experience. My favourite scenes from the film were the ones that felt like they were truly filming a western with Rick Dalton, as I ended up being allowed to get sucked into the makings of a fictional film inside of a real film. It was so well done in terms of the editing and the script.
There have been many discussions about this, and it was a worry for me as it is about a serious subject matter, but I personally found the film to be in good taste. Instead of glorifying the tragedy or bashing a heavy and brutal reminder of the death of Sharon Tate, Tarantino finds a way to tell the story of the night of the murder but do it in his own style. In a style that is reminiscent of Inglourious Basterds, he goes a little bit fictional and a little bit factual to provide a blend that recognises that he knows the darkness of the event, but also adds his own twist to it. This film is not truly about the Manson murders, but just about Hollywood at that particular moment in time and that one event is used as a driving force for the film.
Technically, this film is spot on and I could see it being a huge contender for the technical awards this season. There are some spectacular moments when it comes to the cinematography, the production is so well thought out and, as per usual, the editing is very showy and loud here. This may be one of the first films that has a serious chance at winning some major Oscars this year, but I do not see the buzz from this film dropping like it did for A Star is Born last year.
If you are going into this film expecting a lot of blood and gory action sequences Tarantino style, you will have to wait until the last third of this long film to get what you want. This is the most drama-based Tarantino film yet, as he focuses on character development and setting up the surrounding before committing to showcasing action and gore. When it is done, it is some of the best I have seen. It may be slightly tamer than I expected from a film like this, but it is done with style and a sense of humour, which was shockingly pleasant. My entire cinema screens were laughing throughout the end of the big fight near the end of the film.
Where this film suffers is down to some of the narrative choices. This film is split into three major characters, and unfortunately not enough time was spent on Sharon Tate. This was a worry that came up from the Cannes screening, but it is even less than I expected. Despite the film being about her tragedy, the film instead decides to focus on the two fictional characters and their struggles in the film industry. Some people may love that decision, but it is one that many people are going to be shocked and potentially disappointed by. I also found that the Manson family sequence could have been told slightly better, as I didn’t find myself invested in that part of the story and did not know what Tarantino was trying to communicate about them.
I feel like I need a second watch of this film for it to cement it’s ranking and place. There is so much to love about this film, but I also find that it has it’s problems. I can look past a few of them though as this film was so entertaining and I adored the appreciation of filmmaking and passion of film in the 1960s shown by Tarantino here. The last third is exactly what I love to see from Tarantino, and I would definitely recommend this to other people.

Have you had a chance to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood yet? Did you find problems with the narrative and representation of characters, or did you enjoy the story that was told? Let me know in the comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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