Once Upon A Time In Hollywood goes by so leisurely once it finally gets past the lingering shots of warmly coated set pieces and golden age nostalgia it quickly ends right when you think the plot is just kicking in.
The charm of the cast and polarizing cinematography only do so much to keep the meandering, yet undeveloped story going in the fictional spin of real-life occurrences. Tarantino revels in the longing of old Hollywood for so long the film begins to drag its loose threads along through its tale for so long it is weighed down after just a portion of the nearly 3-hour long character exploration.
Set at the end of a cinematic era, the once acclaimed actor and stunt double duo of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt respectively, are being replaced by new and younger stars in Hollywood. One of these stars is Sharon Tate, a real-life movie actress, who within Tarantino’s film is played by Margot Robbie.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood rides this line of using real events to tell a fictional story that could have still very much happened within the world of movie-making in 1969, and while there is frequent enjoyment throughout, the film loses what interest it had within the dilatory methods of the narrative.
The method of being an almost plot-less tale comprising scenes of people just living their lives is almost an egregious watch. There are sprinkles of entertaining segments all throughout, and a ton of comedic banter to boot, but the overwhelming slice of life content makes the entire movie gets drawn out until it stutters to its conclusion.
Having to patiently sit through the machinations is helped due to superb cinematography and directing styles, though, and there’s no doubt the film is beautiful to look at and get lost in. While the script feels like a step down in quality for Tarantino films, the dialogue still works in a sense that many conversations feel real, helped even more by performances of actors with nuanced mannerisms making up characters that feel in place for their time.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood captures that memory-like essence of a 60’s world to perfection, with beautiful sets that transform the city into a land of days gone being a huge factor. From this tone-setting practice also comes one of the major issues, though, which is a feeling of aimlessness due to the consistency of the nostalgia trip.
The way the film harkens back to Glory days of Hollywood can come in the form of intriguing peaks to the behind-the-scenes process of movie-making tied together by tight, but subtle editing techniques. On the other side, though, the movie features constant scenes of characters just driving that goes on for far too long, and it happens so frequently the film just becomes a story of watching people listen to the radio. It is understandable what the thought process behind these scenes are; to build a sense for the time by having music or ads from the period play while driving past various features that give a sense of the time in melancholy fashion.
However, with the length of the movie these scenes make it feel much more drawn out and were seemingly unnecessary, as the film did a fine job to set its 60s tone in other ways, and while the soundtrack was fitting it just eventually became too much and uninteresting, even when paired with witty banter between the characters. While Leonardo DiCaprio is the lead of the picture and fills his role perfectly, the real star is Brad Pitt. Almost every scene with Pitt was a great experience, and his role as the supporting actor is a definite highlight.
It’s unfortunate his character was not explored more in-depth, but he serves nicely as a hook to stay invested to the thinly overarching plot. Margot Robbie is also fantastic in her role of Sharon Tate, she’s just not given enough to do, and by the end, her character’s inclusion feels almost unnecessary beyond showing the evolution of Hollywood and her character’s name being Sharon Tate.
Margaret Qualley is similar in the sense she doesn’t do much in the story besides moving the plot forward, but despite Qualley having such a small role in the film the up-and-coming actress brings a lot to the table. Even with the likes of DiCaprio and other big names, Qualley’s performance is compelling within her playful mystery. Every actor does a good job with what they have, though, and everyone does their part to flesh out the experience.
The real heart of the movie lies in the friendship between the leads and their roles as the actor/stuntman pair. DiCaprio and Pitt play off each other in a way that makes more boring stretches of the film palatable. Despite this aspect being one of the best parts of the movie, though, by the conclusion, nothing has really changed between them. The film is so caught up in its slice of life depiction of people just living their lives, what the characters end up going through with each other ultimately doesn’t say much about their friendship we didn’t already know.
Like with a lot of the themes, it muddies the idea around the message of friendship to the point of it being on the verge of having no meaning. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has a lot of greatness to it, but the path it takes to get there doesn’t seem worth it. The film’s progression is unhurried despite the looming fate if you know the real-world events.
If the film swapped some of its buddy hangout flick moments for scenes that more accurately get to a tighter point everything could work a lot better. There are a lot of smaller details to pick up on and some nuances within the narrative that are intriguing with how the film is, but it’s also hard to justify a second viewing. Unfortunately, with the pacing how it is the film just ends up acting as a drearily processed trip down memory lane.
If you have questions about how our scoring system works, check out our reviewing guide!