Quentin Tarantino is going to be Quentin Tarantino, and for that, I think cinema can be grateful. The oscar winning writer/director has made films that have been controversial, abrasive, violent, bloody, and in some opinions, brilliant. You know who he is as a filmmaker, and yet, Once Upon a Hollywood feels like a different, mellow Tarantino. This is a nostalgic stroll to the 1960's, a time that molded and shaped the person that the Pulp Fiction director has become. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star as an aging movie star and his stunt double buddy, living in Los Angeles, in the summer of 1969, trying to hold onto that Hollywood glow they once had.  

Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood

The structure of the story follows three major characters. DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, a TV star of the Bonanza-style show Bounty Law, now grasping for career success, going from pilot to pilot, trying to stay afloat in an industry he loves. Along his side is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a golden haired veteran stuntman for Dalton, finding companionship in his pit-bull Brandy, and perfectly content doing things around the house from time to time. The third character is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the apple of the cameras eye, living next-door to Rick, alongside her husband Roman Polanski, and the embodiment of beauty in the California sun. All three characters are on their own paths, Rick desperately trying to rekindle what made him a star, Cliff suspicious about a group of hippies led by a guy named Charlie Manson, and Tate in awe of the entire art of cinema, especially her own films. All three stories will connect, but the “how” is the fun part of it all. Tarantino still knows how to weave a spectacular yarn together.

For one thing, I'm intrigued with how hardcore Quentin Tarantino fans will receive Once Upon a Hollywood. In many respects, this film is a collection of Tarantino's greatest cinema hits. The Pulp Fiction part is the various connecting characters. The Inglorious Bastards part is a revision of history, changing the fate for certain real-life people. However, the movie I kept going back to was Jackie Brown. That production, in many respects, perfectly captured the cinema that Tarantino grew up on. Exploitation films, rich characters that came to life in just a moment on the screen, long takes of conversation, and of course callbacks to past films that influenced us. All of that, and more, is present in Once Upon a Time... Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson often pull the camera back and above the city sky, revealing billboards of movies, drive-in theaters, and neon signs. Tarantino is obviously nostalgic for this time period, but not afraid to open the eyes of his characters, guiding them to a new horizon.

Along with the strong performances by DiCaprio and Pitt, is the collection of Tarantino regulars, each appearing in scene to scene like a family member entering your house. Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, and the unforgettable Bruce Dern, all bring their style and gravitas to this film. Each one looks like a trademark to the Tarantino product, but reminding us of their acting skills in an instant of opening their mouths to speak. It's certainly meta for Tarantino to make a movie about Hollywood, starring a cast of actors that grew up in the Hollywood industry. It's not just the director reaching back to a forgotten time, it's a collection of Hollywood royalty transporting to a time that never heard of the superhero genre or staying home to watch a movie. The purpose of this story is for audiences to catch it in their hands, hold it tight before it flies away.

Once Upon a Hollywood can be indulgent and the moments of violence gave me reason to pause, but that's just how Quentin Tarantino makes his movies. This is his 9th film and it still amazes me that the director never pulls his punches. Each movie he makes has his stamp and he does it all with two of Hollywood's greatest superstars. DiCaprio and Pitt may be veterans in the industry, delivering two excellent performance, while they are still the two coolest people in every room. They look cool in sunglasses, smoke a Red Apple cigarette, drive cars fast, and know what they want. That is what Once Upon a Hollywood is all about, going back to a place where things were cool and as far as movies go, this might be Quentin Tarantino's coolest film yet. It all was happening...Once Upon a Time...