"Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" is Tarantino's ninth film and his first since 2015's "The Hateful Eight" (also, it should be noted, it's Tarantino's first release since the sexual abuse allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein broke and Uma Thurman's decision to shed light on a life-threatening "Kill Bill Vol. 2" stunt). Opening July 26, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie and looks back at late '60s Hollywood, fading white male star fame and the Tate murders. How does it stack up to the rest of Tarantino's highly revered output? Here's what the reviews have to say:
The Story Mixes Up Fictional Leads With Real Hollywood
The filmmaker gives Sharon [Tate] (Margot Robbie) a fictional neighbor on Cielo Drive. He's Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a star of TV Westerns who's boozing away what's left of his flagging career. Rick's only friend is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his stunt double and confidante who lives in a trailer near the Van Nuys Drive-In with a rust-colored Rottweiler named Brandy. Cliff is a Vietnam vet and has been largely unemployable since rumors started swirling that he killed his wife and got away with it.
Two main stories run on parallel tracks in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. One concerns Sharon, who is carefree, innocent, and eager to please. The other follows Rick and Cliff, which often splits into two stories of its own: Rick's struggle to be an actor of real worth in a changing industry, and Cliff's brush with a group of teenaged girls (and a few guys) living on an abandoned ranch that once functioned as a movie set. That group, of course, turns out to be the Manson family.
It's Unmistakably The Product Of Tarantino's Mind, Though Perhaps Not His Sharpest Offering
This is Tarantino's most personal film in decades, and the longings expressed in it flow from who he is as a person: an established middle-aged white guy confronting his own impending irrelevance.
For his ninth effort, he pays homage to his southern California roots via a yarn about a B-list actor slumming it in low-budget B-movies. Perhaps it's only fitting that "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" earns the same grade […] Now that the Oscar pressure is off, let's enjoy "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" for what it is: A rather breezy late-summer entry with a set-up that could only be written by a native Angelino-turned-filmmaker.
It Also Doesn't Go Heavy On The Manson Stuff Right Away
For Tarantino, the murders aren't the main interest. He's most fascinated by the world around them, in the fact that Manson ultimately wound up in Hollywood and not some other place. The factors that might drive girls to follow a man like Manson might also be linked to what caused Rick Dalton's star to start fading.
I'm sure someone at some party uttered the question, "Wait, Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys is hanging out with them?," in disbelief. So by the time we get to Charles Manson in this movie, Tarantino has done a pretty great job of setting up just how odd all of this is.
Oscar Winner DiCaprio Nails The Role Of TV's Rick Dalton
DiCaprio proves to be such a perfect choice for Dalton that one can't really imagine anyone else in the part. He's always had classic Hollywood stardom, but he imbues Dalton with that odd mix of longing that often comes with aging — sure, he loves his life and hanging with his buddy but he's nervous when he thinks about what's next, wondering if he hasn't missed out on something forever.
There's irony in seeing Hollywood's biggest (and perhaps final) movie star playing someone who's all washed up, but DiCaprio has been working in showbiz since he was a child — he's someone who can understand the ways in which the industry builds people up and then tears them down.
Cliff's The Kind Of Character We All Wish Brad Pitt Would Play More Often
Pitt's performance is the first reminder in years (since perhaps 2011's "Moneyball") that he's the most charismatic movie star of his generation: This is effortlessly cool work, with an edge of menace, from a man who has gravitated toward more closed-off and brittle roles in recent years.
Pitt is flat-out hilarious when [Cliff] gets a stunt job on "The Green Hornet" and goads an arrogant Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), starring as Kato, into a battle that ends badly for the "Fists of Fury" legend.
According To Some, Robbie Is Given Too Little To Do As Sharon Tate…
At nearly a three-hour running time, it's a shame Tarantino didn't shine a brighter light on Robbie's character. Her Sharon Tate is a gorgeous cipher dressed up in white leather Go-Go boots […] This is a wasted opportunity to learn more about one of the most tragic figures in Hollywood history beyond her chic fashion sense.
The only thing we learn, really, is that she wanted to be loved and recognized like anyone else, and that she really liked Paul Revere and the Raiders.
… But Others Agree With Robbie And Tarantino That The Role Adds Up To More Than Its Raw Minute Count
Tarantino received some heat at the Cannes Film Festival for his (unnecessarily combative) response to a journalist's question at a press conference, in which he vehemently told a New York Times reporter who asked about Robbie's relatively small number of lines in the film that he "rejected [her] hypothesis." But as the actress herself said in her response, her character has some of the film's most moving scenes. Sharon Tate is often remembered as little more than the actress from "Valley of the Dolls", the wife of Roman Polanski, and the girl who got murdered by the Manson family. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" gives her emotional depth.
The best way to present Tate as a human being was to keep her out of the plot and just, here and there, show her doing things any other human beings in her position might be doing at any given time. She is the ghost who haunts this movie.
It's Super Long And Stylishly Stuffed To The Gills
The 56-year-old's ninth — and so he promises, penultimate — film feels like the sprawling confluence of every last thread in his creative DNA: lock-jawed Westerns, splattery exploitation, sex, sideburns, Nazis, nihilists, femmes who may or may not be fatales. It's shaggy and self-indulgent and almost scandalously long; and in nearly every moment, pretty glorious.
Is there a way to use the word "meandering" as a positive? Because "Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood" is a *meandering* movie that doesn't feature much of a traditional plot. I swear that's meant in the most positive way possible […] With a running time of 160 minutes, Tarantino has nowhere to be anytime soon.
Tarantino's longtime editor, Sally Menke, died in 2010, and her absence is still palpable. But though Menke's assistant, Fred Raskin, stumbled with "Django Unchained", he comes into his own with "Once Upon A Time", indulging in high-wire experiments that further unmoor the film from conventional plotting.
The Trailer And Stills Only Give A Glimpse Of The Production's Lush Design And Cinematography
The bulk of Tarantino's film is designed to be a dreamy snapshot of the movie business and life in Hollywood in the late '60s. We get dozens of shots of Cliff driving Rick around town, really just to show off the amazing production design, classic cars, and music choices on the radio […] It's a setting once-removed from reality, capturing a time through the way celebrity culture and movies defined it more than the historians.
Much of the film coasts on the nostalgic setting of the late 60's — a time synonymous with change. Not only is this sentiment found in the corners of the script, it's there aesthetically. Tarantino immerses us into the world of 1969, achieved through Arianne Phillips' costume designs and Barbara Ling's production design – all of it captured beautifully through Robert Richardson's cinematography.
If It Feels Different From The Tarantino You Know, Know That The Movie Eventually Takes A Turn…
Some viewers might start to wonder somewhere around the two-and-a-half-hour mark if Tarantino actually has a plan to bring this all together, or merely wants to keep unspooling his celluloid valentine until the reels run out. There's a wild twist coming, one you can either choose to go with or not; it feels a lot better to let it in.
I'm not going to tell you what happens (not because of Tarantino's request, but because I'm a professional movie critic). But you don't need to have any idea of the plot of the film to understand that, if "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained" (and, to an extent, even "The Hateful Eight") are fantastical, revisionist histories, Tarantino's latest movie is wish fulfillment on a much grander scale — but simultaneously a more intimate one.
… And Though It Might Be The Most Tarantino-y Bit Of All, It's Also What's Most Likely To Turn You Off The Film
The climactic third act, however, places shock and schlock at the forefront, which, in turn, negates much of what the first two-thirds sets up thematically with the characters and the narrative. The provocateur's ode to L.A. devolves into something shallow, cheap and exploitative. It may be bombastically Tarantinoian to choose the route he does. Only it's done at a detriment to the sentiments expressed in the first place.
The least interesting thing about "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is its attempts to shock the audience. Tarantino may have excelled at such provocations 20 years ago, but he's gotten a little rusty — and that plays perfectly into the Tinseltown story he's trying to tell.
The final few scenes will be among the most divisive of the year, and I'm still rolling around their effectiveness in my own critical brain. Without spoiling anything, I'm haunted by the final image, taken from high above its characters, almost as if Tarantino himself is the puppet master saying goodbye to his creations, all co-existing in a vision of blurred reality and fiction. However, the violence that precedes it threatens to pull the entire film apart (and will for some people). Although that may be the point — the destruction of the Tinseltown dream that casts this blend of fictional and real characters back into Hollywood lore.
By the end of the film, Tarantino falls back into some of his familiar tropes. It's as though he just can't stop himself from dipping into old habits but doesn't really know why and isn't sure how to stick the landing. But until that point, it is a star-studded joy to watch.
Watch The Trailer