Sun. Sep 15th, 2019

Cannes Review: Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’ is one of his most nuanced, poignant and entertaining films to date

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) leaps into action in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Courtesy of The Cannes Film Festival)

Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a delicious, subversive and audacious takedown of Hollywood

In one of his most nuanced, poignant and entertaining films to date, Quentin Tarantino creates a film that shows Hollywood’s true colors while managing to be entertaining and highly engaging.

When you’re a director that has achieved such a status in Hollywood, would you dare takedown the very same institution that made you a revered figure in the first place? Would you choose to glorify or reveal what it means like to be in one of the most ruthless industries out there? Tarantino chose the latter. And the result is a film that doesn’t strive to be pointlessly commercial – but puts honesty over appeal and nuanced characterization over exposition.

A fading star, a rising starlet and a stuntman. Three talents trying to survive in an industry that still pays attention to looks, age and connections – and just as it can make you a worshipped star, can also banish you from the spotlight. And just like that, what Hollywood gives, it can also take away in an instant.

Tracing three different characters over the course of a few days in the 1960s, Tarantino’s film is perhaps one of his least showy films – in terms of not seeking to enforce his signature style over what the story actually needs – but is also his most touching, as much as it is critical of the very town where all the action unfolds.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a TV star whose fame is waning. As his stock lowers, he struggles with an industry he is unable to recognize and as a result experiences fear of irrelevance. Rather than struggling with fame, Dalton is an under-rated star who has never had his proper day in the sun. As he grows older, he realizes that chances are that he will just go unnoticed. His dreams of being an A-list star are growing further and further – and his only true friend is his stuntman Cliff (Brad Pitt).

Just as Rick struggles with relevance, Cliff has always been in the shadows – but has never been resentful. With his sarcastic nature and eyes that speak volumes about what life in the shadows could do to a man who some had thought was a star-in-the-making, Cliff as tough as nails but with a heart of gold, loyal but lonely and fully aware of what his future could look like once he is no longer Rick’s double.

Rick’s neighbor is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), a young actress who hasn’t made her mark yet on Hollywood. She is full of life and ambitious but hasn’t had her proper breakout yet. In mysterious and expected ways, she crosses paths with Rick and Cliff.

Leonardo Di Caprio delivers a fantastic performance as Dalton, a star who is on the decline, but the movie belongs to Brad Pitt. As Cliff, he is charming, funny and at times heartbreaking. One of the film’s weak points is the thin characterization of Tate, perhaps a deliberate choice to comment on Hollywood’s obsession with looks rather than inner beauty.

Stars’ struggles with age, relevance and recognition loom large over Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Tarantino deliciously and elegantly comments on the town’s contradictions and double standards, while also taking the time to build up his two lead characters in relatable, convincing ways. The film manages to subvert expectations and takes different turns and directions than one could expect from this particular story. And rather than exploit the Manson murders, it uses them as a platform to comment on a town and industry that destroys dreams as quickly as it helps build them. An audacious, uncompromising film that grows on you with time.

Grade: A-

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