Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

2019, R, 161 min. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Rafal Zawierucha, Damon Herriman, Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, Emile Hirsch, Mike Moh, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Scoot McNairy, Zoë Bell, Austin Butler.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 2, 2019

The highest praise I can give to “The Ninth Film From Quentin Tarantino” is that it’s the first movie in years that I’ve immediately decided I wanted – nay, needed – to watch again, as soon as possible. Hypnotically immersive to the nth degree, it’s a lovingly realized slice of alternate history that perfectly evokes in spectacularly granular detail a seemingly timeless moment in yesteryear Tinseltown. Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is a fractured fairy tale too good to be true, because the truth hurts; and Tarantino, forever lovesick with and impassioned by this particular Los Angelean era, has better things in store than a mere reimagining of events surrounding the gated compound at 10050 Cielo Drive and the Spahn Movie Ranch. Firmly rooted in the Tarantinoverse, Once Upon a Time is an elegiac mash note to Hollywood 1969, at times sublimely, almost surrealistically moving while simultaneously managing to be the director’s funniest and least violent film to date.

As is usual for a QT film, there are multiple parallel storylines at play, intersecting and ricocheting off each other like a billiards table awash in eight-balls. First and foremost are best buddies Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Pitt). Dalton’s an aging and alcoholic B-movie cowboy looking down the barrel of an unfulfilling future filming Sergio Corbucci-helmed spaghetti Westerns in Almería, Spain, to pay the bills. Booth is his tough-as-nails stunt double, driver, and all-around compadre-cum-enabler. The pair saunter through L.A. in full-on leisure mode, encountering various famous names, among them newly arrived next-door neighbors Sharon Tate (Robbie) and her sparsely glimpsed husband Roman Polanski (Zawierucha), Green Hornet star Bruce Lee (Moh), and those creepy hippies hanging out at the Spahn Ranch, chief among them the libidinous Pussycat (Qualley) and Tex (Butler). Cinematographer Robert Richardson bathes everything in a honeyed, hyper-real glow that nonetheless allows room for the seepage of creepy-crawling darkness into the story’s explosive and horrifically comical finale.

Pitt and DiCaprio are perfectly cast. They come off as a lower-rent version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-era Redford and Newman, all laconically snappy patented QT dialogue, Red Apple cigarettes, and booze-fueled late-night bullshit sessions. Yet it’s Robbie’s Tate that makes the blood-red sun shine throughout. Midway through Tarantino’s lengthy (fittingly so) fairy tale, there’s a stunning little sequence of Tate wandering into a theatre to watch herself onscreen alongside Dean Martin as Matt Helm in 1968’s The Wrecking Crew. Slipping off her pristine white go-go boots and putting her bare feet up on the seat in front of her, she positively glows in the dark as she anonymously basks in the reactions of her fellow moviegoers. It’s a beautifully staged and acted sequence in a movie that’s overflowing with adoration for not only the comedically gifted Tate – what could have been, what should have been – but also for the very notion of late-1960s Hollywood and indeed cinema itself.

Some critics have griped about Once Upon a Time’s near-three-hour running time but I disagree. Tarantino’s deliberately unhurried pacing defines the exact (and, sadly, nearly extinct) pleasures of 35mm filmmaking, the relaxed yet portentously suspenseful feeling of the beginning of the end of something golden and the emergence of something else rising to usurp the sunshine and sparkle of the already rickety Hollywood signage. Innocence lost? Not so. It’s more like fear and loving in Los Angeles, all wrapped up in Quentin Tarantino’s extraordinary and unmistakable auteurist style. Now that’s entertainment.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Quentin Tarantino
Once Upon a War Story
Once Upon a War Story
Quentin Tarantino rewrites the spaghetti western with a side of sour Krauts in 'Inglourious Basterds'

Marjorie Baumgarten, Aug. 21, 2009

More Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino Sits in 'The Director's Chair'
Tarantino Sits in 'The Director's Chair'
Robert Rodriguez puts the spotlight on his old friend for El Rey

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 13, 2014

Greg Nicotero, From Zombies to Snake Vampires
Greg Nicotero, From Zombies to Snake Vampires
FX guru on 'The Walking Dead' to 'From Dusk Till Dawn'

Richard Whittaker, April 28, 2014

More Quentin Tarantino Films
The Hateful Eight
Tarantino's latest opus screens in 70mm this week at two Austin venues

Marc Savlov, Dec. 25, 2015

Django Unchained
As entertaining and subversive as Django Unchained is, Tarantino's latest also suffers from a certain slackness.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Dec. 28, 2012

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Rafal Zawierucha, Damon Herriman, Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, Emile Hirsch, Mike Moh, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Scoot McNairy, Zoë Bell, Austin Butler

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle