Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)

Aesthetically pleasing but lacking brains or a heart

Dir. Quentin Tarantino

Runtime:161 minutes

Rating: 18

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

Quentin Tarantino’s 9th feature length film is also his most expensive costing nearly $100 million to make. It features a massive stellar cast, featuring actors that have graced his previous films, as well as Hollywood’s current pool of top talent. With it’s near 3 hour runtime, expect the get a numb bum as the famed director tries to capture your attention with lots of bright colours and glitzy scenes.

An aging actor and his best friend/stunt man try to come to terms with how Hollywood is changing into something they no longer recognize and are no longer central to. Meanwhile the Manson family cult is alive and well, as is Sharon Tate – who is the real world we know was murdered by some of the occultists.

There is a mix of fact and fiction throughout; some people real, some made up; some events real, some made up. You know how at the end of Inglourious Basterds” (2009) the Americans saved the day and finished off the Nazi – yeah, it’s more of that kind of fictional storytelling in the real world. Visually this film is breath-taking at times, it has some lovely scenery, and some gorgeous retro costume, sets, and vehicles too. The actors in the film carried off their roles quite well, albeit without being engaging enough for me to really care about too much. Pitt and DiCaprio’s bromance drives the film forward, and Margot Robbie provides a more light-hearted side story. As they don’t put a foot wrong with their performances, and having proved in other films that they are stellar actors, I have to put the issues I had with their characters down to the writing for the film.

You’ve probably seen the lack of stars at the bottom of this review and wondered why, especially when some people have called this a 10 out of 10 film?

Well, unfortunately I did not really enjoy this long winded “what if” look at Hollywood for a few reasons. Just to be clear, I am not “new audience” and I do enjoy Tarantino’s films, this one however was a real struggle for me.

I felt that the film was trying too hard to be cool and culturally relevant. It came across as aesthetically pleasing, but with truly little substance. A summary which pretty much explains how I felt about the entire film…. it looked good, really really good at times… but it didn’t have substance, it lacked a real heart or brain, or in this case, a decent plot. It was just lots of beautiful things thrown together without ever going much further. If it had of been a “paint by numbers” film, then it had all the elements it needed to make an extravaganza…. but the final masterpiece that was put onto canvas almost felt too manufactured and forced – you could still see the numbers under the felt-tip colouring marks. Sure, there was a little character development; but not enough to care about and the characters didn’t really show too much growth. Sure, there was action in the film, but not relevant to the overall vehicle of the movie. Sure, there was sex appeal, but it did not contribute anything, it just was.

Once upon a Time… in Hollywood” is a really long film with a small climax that is really far-fetched in the context of the rest of the film. In fact, the climax of the film it the one true Tarantino signature – you watch that part and you know you are watching one of his movies. The 2 hours prior to that though, it would be hard to see clear signatures of his famed auteurship – in the film and story telling sense anyway. There are of course the signatures that fans have come to expect, don’t worry, there are random scenes for no reason with a lot of dialogue just to explain something irrelevant and small; Red Apple cigarettes are mentioned; and of course there are still plenty of bare feet on show.

I was left unfulfilled and robbed of the time that I could have easily used to watch other films. I find it hard to recommend this film and staggered and bemused by the amount of people who have awarded this a perfect 10 out of 10. If you have seen this, ask yourself some serious questions:

  • Would this have as much fanfare and prestige if it were not a Tarantino movie?
  • Would you have looked at the film twice if it did not have De Caprio and Pitt in it?
  • Would you have rated it as highly if Margot Robbie’s legs were not on display? (Just to clarify, that is not me being sexist for objectifying female anatomy, look at other reviews online and count how many times you see the aforementioned legs mentioned as a driver to a decent rating!)

If the answer to the above is probably not – then how can this be the film of 2019? If the answer to the above is yes, then be careful with that growing nose.

Not the best film I have ever seen, not the worst film either. An exceptionally long and at times disengaging film. Lots of beautiful aesthetics, but no heart, brain, or decent plot. A ‘just is‘ and “what if” film that feels self indulgent and loves itself a little too much. Tarantino’s ode to the 1960’s and his fictional fairy tale about Hollywood just didn’t grab me like his earlier films. I’m sure the film will, and already has divide opinions, and everybody is entitled to one. But from me, it’s a big, fat, no thank you. I will give this another try in time, I’ve watched it twice already (2019) and (2021) but other than appreciating the craftsmanship, I didn’t get much else from the film for me.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/10)

2 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)”

  1. Nice post! I’m yet to see it, but your review is one of the lowest scoring reviews I’ve read. You raise some interesting points. Do we watch a film for its plot, who is in it, who directed it – or a combination of all of them?

    Liked by 1 person

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