Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019, UK/USA/China)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may not be Quentin Tarantino's most instantly iconic film, but in many ways it is his most mature and developed. While his signature brush strokes are all there - pastiche, conversation-heavy dialogue, infinite references to film history - many are more understated than ever before. For example, while violence still plays a role in this film, it plays a much smaller one than past Tarantino outings.

As a result, Hollywood shows a much softer side of Tarantino. The film is first and foremost a love letter to movie westerns, embodied in the main character - Rick Dalton - and his stuntman and assistant Cliff Booth. Dalton, clearly an amalgam of several real life actors, is a washed up TV western star desperately trying to revive his career with a transition into the film world, at a moment when New Hollywood is burgeoning and the industry is rapidly changing.

The film shows this appreciation for westerns in a twofold manner, with an actual western film that Dalton is shooting unfolding within real time over the course of the film, as well as scenes within the actual narrative that are modeled after westerns. One of the film's most effective and tense scenes, involving Cliff Booth's visit to the infamous Manson-occupied Spahn ranch, could be straight out of a Sam Peckinpah film.

The third narrative woven into the film traces Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), as she goes to the cinema to see herself in the film The Wrecking Crew. This dialogue-spare narrative - perhaps the most sensitive and understated that Tarantino has ever written - could easily be mistaken for another director. Knowing Tate's fate in retrospect, it also has a deeply melancholic quality.

On top of all of this is a meta-narrative involving celebrity, age, and maintaining one's dignity in an image-driven society. It is surely not coincidence that Tarantino has enrolled two of the last great A-listers - DiCaprio and Pitt - in a film about maintaining relevance. While some have already read the film as a Trumpian story, the film is ultimately far too apolitical to draw such conclusions. 

9/10

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