Ever since his directorial debut back in 1992, Quentin Tarantino has always known what stories he’s wanted to tell and exactly how to tell them. Over the course of his almost three-decades’ long career in the industry, the universal auteur has crafted stories about the wildest of the wild: a pair of philosophical hitmen, a Nazi-scalping Jewish army, and a freed slave-turned-bounty hunter being a few prime examples of his attraction to the surreal. But despite his seemingly uncompromising fascination with these outlandish concepts, he’s never once faltered when it comes to the backdrops of which he chooses to paint his creations over. Every one of his films always hits the bullseye in the sense of the rich scenery and design of his gorgeously gritty worlds.
To sum it up, the thing that’s so glorious about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—Tarantino’s swan song to Tinseltown—is that this is the kind of movie that inspires you from the first frame, grabbing you by the frontal lobe and sucking you into the colorful whimsy of this mad, mad, mad, mad world. It’s a movie for those who have gone through life wondering how it all went by so fast; the kinds of people steeped in nostalgia, longing for the supposed simplicity of a bygone era. It’s a film that explains how our memories sometimes serve as a basis for our decisions, and why accepting that life goes on isn’t as bad as it may seem.
Tarantino’s eye for Hollywood is almost voyeuristic, and this escape into the land of late-night costume parties, stylish architecture, and slick automobiles is pure cinematic bliss. The twinkling shot of the iconic Cinerama dome encapsulates every bit of the magic that the film exudes, while the wonderful tunes that play on the car radios of our leads help to accentuate the Grand Theft Auto-resembling aesthetic. There’s nothing finer than a dose of Tarantino sweet tea, which in this case takes the form of a perfect combination of top-tier acting, a strongly refined script, and a sensory overload containing the best cinematography, sets, and costume design in the business.
Tarantino’s eye for the glamour may lure us in, but it’s the central performances from the three leads that hold our captivation. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is a quick-witted, but down-on-his-luck actor who simply doesn’t want to accept that the world has changed, and with it, his career. Brad Pitt’s smooth-talking Cliff Booth adds even more humor to the mix and acts as the reasonable side to Dalton’s philosophies. Margot Robbie embodies the personality and charisma of Sharon Tate perfectly, owning every scene she’s in. The thing is, acting isn’t just about being able to read lines in a way that isn’t monotonous. It’s about physicality, and all three are able to juggle line delivery and the spirit of their characters extremely well.
Tarantino and co. juggle a handful of analytical topics that seem to affect our culture just as much as they did in this time period. Without spoiling any major plot details, Tarantino seems to know exactly how his films and their content have been perceived over the course of his lengthy career and makes sure to almost poetically juxtapose the violent nature of his style in a climax that’s so fucking insane that it’s almost impossible to believe that it got past the conception phase. The way violence in the media has an impact on our lives is undeniable, but who would’ve thought Tarantino of all people would be the one to have a symbolic nature behind his sadistic lens?
More than anything, though, this is a film about what those involved in the procedure of creating one of these things have to go through, both physically and mentally. It’s a daunting task of crafting a film; luckily, many have tried and succeeded in bringing their vision to the big screen. But it’s the subtleties about the creative process as a whole that makes Once Upon a Time in Hollywood so relatable. Everybody has had to face head-on the problems that arise during the actual making of a project, whether it be a personal venture or something for school. The way the film is able to conjure such a brilliant, heartfelt look into this almost-mystical land is extraordinary.
I doubt that anyone ever believed that this would be Tarantino’s last film, but if it truly is, I don’t see a better way for the director to go out. It’s an endlessly rewatchable ode to the past, present, and future, filled with entertaining characters and a marvelous throwback soundtrack to boot. It feels so refreshing to see a laid-back, nostalgia-driven joyride against the catalog of fast-paced, consistently brutal films that make up the rest of Tarantino’s filmography. The best way to go out in a blaze of glory seems to be to depart from everything that’s made one an icon, only to leave their fanbase wanting more. This might very well be the case for Tarantino, but at least we’ll have this astonishing work of art to cherish in the meantime. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is truly a masterpiece of the highest form.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is now in theaters worldwide