How can so many great Hollywood names make a product like this?
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is the ninth directorial effort from Quentin Tarantino, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a former TV cowboy who finds himself in the twilight of his acting career in 1969 Los Angeles. Brad Pitt stars as his longtime stunt-man, Margot Robbie plays real-life actress Sharon Tate, and Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern and Al Pacino fill out the rest of the cast.
I was incredibly looking forward to this film. I’m lukewarm on Tarantino films (I think “Inglourious Basterds” is a masterpiece, “Reservoir Dogs” is great fun and “The Hateful Eight” is pretty boring), but the incredible cast, setting and apparent love letter to movie-making had me invested before I even saw a trailer. And maybe I had my hopes too high, but “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is just… meandering cinema.
Leonardo DiCaprio, finally back from his first Oscar win for 2015’s “The Revenant,” is one of those actors that I will turn out to see in anything. Brad Pitt doesn’t do much lead role acting much lately either (this is just his fourth film since 2014) but it is always cool to see him in things, even though he is finding more success lately funding smaller projects like “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The pair share a nice chemistry together and you do buy that they have been friends for a long while, although there are long stretches throughout where they don’t share the camera at all.
As Sharon Tate, Robbie is underused and undersold. Her scenes just feel like filler, and we only think of her is important and being shown because of her relation to the Charles Manson murders.
And speaking of the murders, Quentin Tarantino got in some hot water when he announced he was going to make a film centered round them, and then release the film around the 50th anniversary of the tragedy (August 8, 1969). I can’t get into how the cult or the murders play into the film, but that element feels like a complete and total after-thought until it absolutely needs to become involved.
This is Tarantino’s weakest script yet, by far. Gone are the integrate and thought-out plots and sharp dialogue, here to stay are random changes in tone and lazy exposition dumps. On more than one occasion, characters stop the film in its tracks to explain who other people are and why they matter, and on two or three occasions a narrator (Kurt Russell) will break the fourth wall to fill us in on other details.
Just everything the ever-indulgent Tarantino is trying to go for here has been done better before. The setting itself looks cool and detailed, this certainly doesn’t feel like modern Los Angeles, but films like “The Nice Guys” (set in 1972) and “L.A. Confidential” (1951) immerse you so much more and feel lived in, not visited. Films like “Hail, Caesar!” and “La La Land” both pay way better homage and tribute to the art of filmmaking and the admiration for the old studio days, and “Midsommar” does the depiction of drug trips, needless violence and long runtimes better.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is more sluggish and at times boring than it is bad, but when your writer-director is a two-time Academy Award winner, your leading men both have trophies of their own and your supporting cast are all players who could lead their own project, the end result should be way better than “meh.” “The Hateful Eight” is not a good film and I did not enjoy it very much, but “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” a film as needlessly long as its title, is worse. It is the worst film of Quentin Tarantino’s career.
Critic’s Rating: 4/10