There are a few well-known factoids about Quentin Tarantino. Two of these factoids are that he has put a cap on the movies that he will make in his career at ten, and that he loves the Golden Age of Hollywood, both of which heavily influence his ninth film – Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
This film follows Rick Dalton, a past-his-prime actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Cliff Booth, his stunt double/chauffer (Brad Pitt), as Dalton deals with a career crisis. He’s no longer the star he once was and has been unfortunately typecast. This new spot in his career is not nearly as fulfilling for him as it used to be and it is taking a toll on him.
At face value, the plot can easily be seen as Tarantino showing his audience exactly why he wants to be done after his tenth movie. His argument has always been that filmmakers (or artists in general) have a shelf life, or a very specific amount of time to be in their prime before they start to lose their touch or overstay their welcome. He wants to go out on his own terms – when he feels like he’s done the best he can do.
And who can blame him? He shows what can happen to an artist (Dalton) when they aren’t getting what they used to out of their work. In the same vein as Aldo Raine saying, “This just might be my masterpiece” at the end of Inglorious Basterds, the characters of Rick and Cliff are just meta comments on Tarantino’s own career.
But at the same time, it’s a love letter to everything that inspired him to get into the business in the first place. 1960s Hollywood was booming and Tarantino fills this movie with namedrops and references at every turn. The love and passion of the era is even more apparent than Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting talent.
DiCaprio has given many incredible performances throughout his storied career, but this is easily one of his best. For a while now, he has been hit or miss for me. There are times when I can just tell that he is acting or that his performance is being fueled by his ego and a bit too much self-indulgence (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby). But there are other times when I forget it’s him because he totally becomes his character (The Departed, Inception). Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is a strong example of the latter. There are a handful of scenes that can be played at the Oscars when he is inevitably nominated this year.
He anchors a movie that is somehow slowly kinetic. For a 2 hour 45 minute movie, it doesn’t have much that happens throughout a big chunk of it. But it is somehow gripping the entire way through and the nearly three hour runtime breezes by. Per usual, this is a testament to Tarantino’s writing and directing style.
As this is possibly Tarantino’s penultimate film, it’s a shame because it really seems like he has a lot left in the tank. OUATIH feels different than a lot of his films, but it still reaches an unbelievable overall high. It doesn’t soar quite as high as Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Basterds – heck, not many movies at all do – but it is certainly only a notch or two down in quality compared to those. Fortunately, second tier Tarantino is some of the best pure cinema that you can get.