Dueling Critics: Once Upon a Time.... in Hollywood

10:07 August 02, 2019
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

Fritz: Quentin Tarantino's 9th film, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, has opened to mostly positive reviews (85% on Rotten Tomatoes) and over $40 million at the box office. It's a film Dave gave 3.5 stars in his initial review. I agree with that assessment and here we'll go into a little more depth about what we liked about the film. It's a difficult film to discuss without going into spoilers. So, we will first discuss things that aren't spoilers, then we will talk spoilers, but we promise to give you plenty of fair warning before doing so. Tarantino is 100% right that people should go into this movie without knowing what's coming.

While Tarantino's movies generally have pretty tight plots, this one feels in many ways like one of Richard Linklater's great hangout movies (Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some). But even then, that description doesn't entirely do the film justice because the final act has a lot of dramatic urgency to it. But since so much of the movie is about hanging out with the characters and following them around their lives, it's imperative that we like the characters and the actors playing them. Thankfully, all three of the film's principals deliver big time. Brad Pitt, as laconic stuntman/driver Cliff Booth, is as charismatic as he's ever been on screen. Margot Robbie radiates warmth as actress Sharon Tate. Leonardo DiCaprio makes us like his washed-up actor Rick Dalton, even though the script and the performance are not scared to depict Dalton as whiny and needy at times.

What about you? Why did you like this so much?

David: Well, I liked it for all the reasons you stated above. We really get to know and care for these characters, and the performances are excellent. Pitt's character is a lot of fun and I see him getting a Best Supporting Actor nomination come awards season.

I think Tarantino's screenplay is a master work. It feels fragmented at first - maybe a little too fragmented - but it all begins to come together and then truly crystallizes in the final portion of the film. Plus, the script has many layers to it. Not only is it a snap shot of a changing time in Hollywood and how it affects actors, but also changing times in our society with the "peace and love" movement getting ready to crash and burn, but the script is never pretentious. This is Tarantino's most mature work to date

I also loved the recreation of 1969 Hollywood. It all looked lived in and it was so vivid that you could almost feel it, smell it and taste it. The art direction here is absolutely amazing.

What do you feel makes this different than Tarantino's past work?

Fritz: That's a tough question to answer in this portion of the review because I think I'd have a hard time answering it without entering spoiler territory. So I'll come back to it later.

You're right. The recreation of 1969 Los Angeles makes you wish you could take a trip there and hang out for a while. I also think "mature" is a good way to describe the film. Even Tarantino's best works can sometimes feel like they were written by the world's most supernaturally gifted 16-year-old. Jackie Brown is an exception, but that comes from source material by Elmore Leonard. However, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood definitely feels adult and mature in a refreshing way. The script is a little fragmented at times, but I loved being in this world and with these characters so much that I did not care. Speaking of characters, we'd be remiss if we only talked about the three leads. There are a couple of actors with small roles that I think we're going to see a lot more of in the future. Julia Butters is terrific as an 8-year-old method actress and Mike Moh makes an indelible impression as Bruce Lee. Dakota Fanning has been in the movie business for a long time now, but she makes the most of her one scene as Manson Family member "Squeaky" Fromme (Fromme would go on to attempt to assassinate Gerald Ford many years later).

It's a highly original film and a breath of fresh air in the current movie landscape. Tarantino is right that you should avoid spoilers before seeing it. Seriously, readers, if you have not seen the film, STOP READING. YES, YOU. Go see Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, then come back and read the rest of this after you've seen it.

David: Yes, all those actors in smaller roles are fantastic. I would also add to that list Margaret Qualley as underage hippy named Pussycat who hitches a ride from Booth. Qualley is already a rising star - she received a Primetime Emmy nomination for the Fosse/Verdon miniseries - but her chemistry with Pitt is undeniable and I think this is the performance that will make her a star.

So, on with the SPOILERS! Again, thise who have not yet seen the film - turn back now!

Fritz: Ok, SPOILERS start on the next line.

When Tarantino made his impassioned plea about spoilers at Cannes, he tipped his hand at least a little bit. When Clint Eastwood made Sully and Steven Spielberg made Lincoln, neither felt the need to ask critics and audiences to avoid spoilers. That led me to (correctly) believe the film would deviate from history and spare Sharon Tate. But even for audiences who deduce that part of the ending, it's still important to stay away from spoilers. Why? It's because Tarantino has proven to be merciless in the past about killing off major characters in abrupt, brutal, and unceremonious ways. As a result, the scene where Pitt visits the Spahn Ranch with Qualley and the scene where DiCaprio confronts the Manson Family members in his driveway are extremely tense moments because we really do believe anything is possible. It's also a testament to how much we've come to care about those very flawed men that we're so nervous watching those scenes.

I loved the ending for multiple reasons. It felt like a reflection on how movies can give people the happy endings they're too often denied in life. The final scene, where Dalton meets Tate and her friends Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, and Voytek Frykowski, is sweet, but it's also heartbreaking and poignant because we know this didn't actually happen in the real world.

When people fall victim to infamous murderers, their fates sadly become forever intertwined. On top of this indignity, people tend to remember the killers more. Most people know the name Jack the Ripper, but they're unlikely to be able to name the women he killed. They'll likely know the names Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, but are less likely to know the names of the children killed at Columbine. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood reminds us that Tate should be remembered as an actress and a human being (as were Folger, Sebring, and Frykowski), not as a footnote to the grisly story of a cowardly madman. Thankfully, Tarantino only gives Manson the minimal screen time needed to establish his presence in that world (one scene).

You asked me what I thought made Hollywood different from Tarantino's other films? For the reasons listed above, I think it's his warmest film.

What were your thoughts on the finale?

David: The final scene was touching and bittersweet. The scenes leading up to that, however, were incredibly tense. Like you said, Tarantino is known to kill off a major character at the drop of a hat, so I had no idea what was coming. Once Pitt's character signals his dog to attack the tension turned to exhilaration. The audience I saw it with cheered.

Tarantino is taking away the mystique of these real life killers and making them into buffoons. The victims matter more and should be remembered, not these pieces of garbage who commit horrible acts.

And yes, this is Tarantino's warmest movie. Characters care about one another, and you will see throughout the film the human decency of someone being concerned about someone else, like Booth asking Dalton what is wrong when Dalton comes to the realization that he, himself, is a has-been, or Dalton being concerned for the child actress after he throws her down while acting out a scene in a TV show, or Booth risking his life, really, to check on the well-being of rancher George Spahn (Bruce Dern), or, most poignantly, at the end when Sharon Tate asks Dalton if HE was okay, to which he answers, "Thank you for asking that."

Fritz: There's also the kindness shown by the child actor to DiCaprio when he's feeling insecure. Overall, Hollywood is certain to make my top 10 list at the end of the year and I'm looking forward to seeing it a second time in theaters soon.

David: I have, in fact, seen it twice and I am constantly thinking about it days later. That's a great film when it stays with you.

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