Directed By Quentin Tarantino
Starring – Leonardo Dicaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
The Plot – Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature length film visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore, but after Rick gets a new neighbor in the form of actress Sharon Tate (Robbie), the two face a new level of prominence that they didn’t see coming.
Rated R for adult language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references
– Deeper cuts. On the surface level, this film is marketed as an action thriller between two film star best friends who interact with their newfound famous neighbor, but the material reflects a passion much closer to the heart of its enthusiastic director. In such, Tarantino crafts “Once Upon a Time” as this commentary on all things film, balancing the many rises and falls of fame, as well as a colorful dynamic between real life and the silver screen that clearly has more respect for the former. For Quentin, it feels like the best things often happen in real life, as echoed by Margaret Qualley’s character when she states “Actors are so phony. The real people are the ones getting their asses kicked by life”, and boy is she correct. Through many vivid observations on the set, we gain a surreal gaze not only on the craft of acting, but also in the many conversations and background studio cliches that more than support the idea that Tarantino has soaked up a few things from the nine movies he has helmed.
– Production value. Easily the best that I’ve seen in 2019, as Tarantino bends the sands of time with a visual presentation that immerses us fifty years into the past, to conjure up this consistency in believability that continues to shine the longer the film persists. Throwback businesses, complete with neon signs, wardrobe and cars reminiscent of the flower power generation, unorthodox shot compositions by Tarantino that reflect the golden age of cinema, and an audible reminder in the atmosphere full of commercial advertisements and catchy jingles to construct weight for the time period. Everything here is perfect, and it allows transcendence in this idea of us the audience watching a film that takes place in 1969, and instead brands the whole feature itself as a tape from the era, giving us synthetic authentication for how Tarantino would’ve managed as a filmmaker in his favorite generation of cinema.
– Bone-crushing brutality. Tarantino has always captivated audiences with his exploiting nature in the way he documents violence, and this film may take the cake in that regard. What’s truly compelling is how little of it there really is throughout this movie, saving its opportunities for the moments when its impact will be heard the loudest, and boy did it ever ring true in the final fifteen minutes of this film. Capped with impeccable sound design and tight-knit editing that keeps the sequence wrapped inside of this ball of never-ending torture, the scene will serve as a divisive one for moviegoers, and stand as a virtual ink-blot test for psyche stimulus. For me, even with most of the violence being towards females, the atmosphere and sheer lunacy of its arrival constantly kept this in the hilarious realm of surrealism, keeping me from ever taking it seriously as anything other that fantasy filmmaking.
– Attention-grabbing performances. Tarantino has always had great casts, but this might be his single greatest to date, garnering a big name behind every corner and scene, that really gives the film this big budgeted feeling of fame that its troubled protagonist can’t shake. Dicaprio is a whirlwind as Dalton, balancing consistently a southern accent and many noticeable ticks and quirks that gives his character this element of fleshed-out humanity that I wasn’t expecting. Brad Pitt is easily the show-stealer for me, as during late in the second act, this film kind of becomes his character’s, and takes us through the eyes of a man who takes no shit, and gives nothing but brutish personality in the way he attacks life, easily outlining one of my favorite characters of 2019. One disappointment however came in the handling of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. Other than this free spirit who dances and pines for the limited fame she attains, Robbie is given very few chances for the audience to understand her character’s motivations, and feeling like nothing more than an attaining feat for Dalton, instead of her being a pivotal character during a film that is telling her life story.
– Slamming soundtrack. Music is such a continued presence in the film that it practically becomes a character alongside the many familiar faces we engage with. What’s beneficial about this is not only does Tarantino match the consistency in continuity with the particular time period, but his musical selections for the majority are deep cuts that really only appeal to lovers of the generation. It’s also not close-minded in its eclectic nature, bringing us big name artists like Neil Diamond, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Vanilla Fudge, and of course Deep Purple to constantly keep our toes tapping. There’s a wide versatility in the volume level given to the many tracks, and this allows each of them to feel much closer to the characters instead of this beacon of post-production that our actors and actresses are so obviously not hearing and interacting with.
– Tarantino’s Truth. This is another case of a real life event that is bended with an air of fantasy and surrealism through the director’s eyes, and it allows us another ‘What If’ example of storytelling that changes the complexion of the things about the Sharon Tate murders that we’ve come to know. What I love about this is that it combines fiction and reality in a way that is not only respectable to the people involved, but never sacrifices entertainment value because we the audience know we’re watching something that truly didn’t happen this way. I view Tarantino films as this Twilight Zone of never-ending possibilities. Taking something that would otherwise be predictable if it followed every single measure of fact, and instead weaving us through these three stories intricately in a way where fate binds them together to craft this new tale.
– Deconstructing the narrative. As is the case with what Tarantino did in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction”, he once again strips everything we’ve come to know about a three act structure, and presents us with this hybrid of tonal shifts and dialogue-driven long takes that completely reinvents storytelling once again. Surprisingly, the film is essentially plotless, instead taking us through the lives of many people in a way to further realize the momentum of the swing that fame currently holds them within. This will definitely not be for everyone, as I compare it to his film “Death Proof”, a movie polarized by many Tarantino faithful for its abundance of talk with very little walk (Action). The same thing is present here, as the dialogue takes its time to get to know the characters and atmospheres accordingly, catering to many sides of tonal shifts along the way, with everything from comedy, to action, to downright horror for the sake of conflict evolutions. If you’re expecting one of his films that cuts straight to the point, you will probably be disappointed with this one. Quentin is certainly a painter who wants us to embrace every broad stroke for the integrity of the painting, and it has no problem taking its time in this regard.
– Character placement. I wanted to mention this in a separate section from the production, as the editing of familiar films from cinema are given the inclusion of Dalton in them, and the look and feel of the manufacturing feels seamless for the attention given to the details here. Leonardo Dicaprio obviously wasn’t in “Marlowe”, but thanks to grainy cinematography for the screen within the screen, as well as the directed performances of Dicaprio instilling a sense of weight to the interaction with those characters, these sequence bits astound in a way that really makes me wonder just what Hollywood can do if they wanted to take a modern day actor and throw them into “Back to the Future” or “The Breakfast Club”. Production like this is so good it’s scary, and gives Dalton a visual reputation to go with the audible one we hear so much about throughout.
– Constant nagging. While not a major problem, the fact that some elements inside of the storytelling weren’t fully rendered did serve as a problem for me. Aside from focused characters disappearing anti-climatically throughout the film, there’s a major backstory with Pitt’s character that I wish would’ve been given more time to further elaborate on. Without spoiling anything major, his character was previously married, and while it’s hinted at in rumors how it ended, I could’ve used more attention to flesh out the intention behind it, if it even is true in the first place. It could’ve produced an air of regret to a character who feels, for the most part, like he lives conflict free.
– Too long. Not a surprise that a film being over two-and-a-half hours has some pacing issues, but for me it was really more about scenes being trimmed that could’ve shaved a much-needed twenty minutes off of this finished run time. The heaviness of the dialogue never alienated me, but the repetition of familiar scenes without a break certainly did. It kind of rivals what I said earlier about Tarantino molding a new medium of storytelling, but it happens with some casualties along the way; mostly in the idea of scenes that sync up in a way that I certainly wasn’t expecting. Tarantino indulges in these conversations sometimes a bit too much, and it will test anyone who isn’t a Tarantino enthusiast in a way that will have them checking their watches at least once.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+