Cannes 2019: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood sees the Pulp Fiction director at his most emotional and reflective in a film that intersects the life of a TV actor with the Manson Family in the Hollywood of 1969

Film Review by Iana Murray | 23 May 2019
  • Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Film title: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

Twenty-five years after Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or, Quentin Tarantino returns to the Cannes Film Festival with his latest epic set in Tinseltown. Always one for controversy, Tarantino riled up a few critics when he requested journalists to not spoil any plot details – but frankly, there is nothing to spoil. The director’s ninth film is much of what we’ve come to expect: violent, provocative and full of style. It’s also his greatest departure: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood sees Tarantino at his most emotional and reflective.

It’s no secret that Tarantino is as in love with cinema as he is with women's feet (which are featured prominently) and the film indulges on his biggest cinephilic obsessions. He puts his focus on Hollywood in 1969. Cinema tickets are 75 cents, the hippie movement is encroaching on Los Angeles, and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a TV star past his prime. He airs his frustrations to his only friend, his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), but sees an opportunity back to the limelight when Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski move in next door.

Even with a Manson plot thrown in for good measure, the film finds Tarantino toning down the chaos of his oeuvre. There are moments like the five-minute portion observing Cliff make dinner for himself and his dog, and until its climactic finale, much of the time is spent on the minutiae of everyday lives. “Quentin Tarantino” and “quiet” are two contradictory terms, yet somehow this combination comes to pleasant fruition.

Great attention is paid to recreating the spaghetti westerns of the 60s with impressive specificity, but there comes a point where it goes overboard. Prioritising spectacle and celebrity over character, the film is evidently under the eye of a director hypnotised by the magic of movie-making. At over two-and-a-half hours, even when Tarantino shows restraint, the end product is bloated and overwrought.


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival – for more Cannes coverage, click here

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