A Collection of Reviews: The Critics Have Spoken
by Gingersnap | damian-lewis.com | July 25, 2019
With Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood out in U.S. theaters tomorrow, July 26, the movie reviews have started pouring in. Here is what they are saying:
There is a lot of love in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” and quite a bit to enjoy. The screen is crowded with signs of Quentin Tarantino’s well-established ardor — for the movies and television shows of the decades after World War II; for the vernacular architecture, commercial signage and famous restaurants of Los Angeles; for the female foot and the male jawline; for vintage clothes and cars and cigarettes. But the mood in this, his ninth feature, is for the most part affectionate rather than obsessive. Don’t get me wrong. Tarantino is still practicing a cinema of saturation, demanding the audience’s total attention and bombarding us with allusions, visual jokes, flights of profane eloquence, daubs of throwaway beauty and gobs of premeditated gore. And yet “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” whose title evokes bedtime stories as well as a pair of Sergio Leone masterpieces, is Tarantino’s most relaxed movie by far, both because of its ambling, shaggy-dog structure and the easygoing rhythm of its scenes.
The title of the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” is meant to recall Sergio Leone’s masterpiece “Once Upon a Time in the West.” It’s a nod to the Western genre influence on Tarantino’s latest—both structurally and in the actual plot—and the way movies about the Old West play with actual history. Just as the Western has often used real people and places as templates to tell fictional stories, Tarantino has crafted an elegiac ode to a time he’s only experienced through books and movies. The bulk of Tarantino’s film is designed to be a dreamy snapshot of the movie business and life in Hollywood in the late ‘60s. We get dozens of shots of Cliff driving Rick around town, really just to show off the amazing production design, classic cars, and music choices on the radio. The approach by Tarantino and master cinematographer Robert Richardson is incredibly finely tuned, and yet the film never loses that dreamlike aesthetic for the sake of realism—we’re watching a movie not so much about an era but about the movies of that era. It’s a setting once-removed from reality, capturing a time through the way celebrity culture and movies defined it more than the historians. It’s a captivating movie just to live in, complete with long dialogue scenes that some QT fans will say lack the pop and zip of his most playful work but feel more in tune with his character-driven scenes in something like “Jackie Brown.” I do know this for sure—I can’t wait to see this film again. It’s so layered and ambitious, the product of a confident filmmaker working with collaborators completely in tune with his vision. Every piece fits. Every choice is carefully considered. It’s one of those rare movies that will provoke conversation and debate long enough to cement itself in the public consciousness more than the fleeting multiplex hit of the week.
Don’t misunderstand, the familiar Tarantino gut-clenching ultra-violence, especially against women, has hardly disappeared. But it has been in effect quarantined to several wrenching minutes near the end of what is for most of its leisurely two-hour, 41-minute length a tribute to both a bygone era and the kind of masculine charisma and camaraderie the movies have always specialized in. What this means in practice is that what would be peripheral elsewhere is central here. Things like character moments and quirks of personality as well as detailed specifics of popular culture, whether they be from film, TV, music or commercials, are not window dressing to pass the time until the plot kicks in; they are the essential reason “Once Upon a Time” exists. Also front and center is Tarantino’s passion for the late ’60s in general and its popular culture and moviemaking machinery in particular. Tarantino was a boy of 6 in 1969, living far from the center of Los Angeles, and in a sense what he’s done here is re-create the world he’s imagined the adults were living in at the time. If it plays like a fairy tale, and it does, don’t forget the first words in the title are “Once Upon a Time.”
We walk on thin ice, always. Beneath the ice is everything we ignore in order to get through the day: death, decay, despair, disease. Chaos, in other words — the infinitude of random things that can reach out and take us at any second. The car we didn’t see. The killer we don’t know. The ice is made up of society and culture, patterns and art, rules of behavior and conventions of storytelling. And movies, of course. They all allow us to believe that order exists and that it can protect us. It can’t, but not many of us want to live without the illusion. “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood” is very much about these things, all while being a Quentin Tarantino film and one of his best. Tarantino gets the rhythms of late ’60s Hollywood exactly right, as well as the colors, sounds, fashions, slang, pop hits, and long-forgotten advertising jingles. If you’re the appropriate age, “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood” will be a 2½-hour Proustian madeleine of entertainment culture, the kind of thing that puts you into a blissful nostalgia coma. We get glimpses of shyster agents (Al Pacino) holding up the bar at Musso and Frank’s, TV cowboys (Timothy Olyphant), Steve McQueen (Damien Lewis), and an eerily self-possessed child actor (Julia Butters, a real find). “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood” is explicitly about the stories that a massive 20th-century entertainment machine created in order to give us decades of happy endings. It’s about the anxiety and paranoia that existed behind the screen as a matter of daily business. And it’s about how all those happy endings and all that illusion still couldn’t keep chaos from erupting. The way Tarantino sees it, the Manson murders were the inflection point that finally punctured Hollywood’s dream of invincibility — that changed how movies told stories and how they dealt with violence. Why hold back on blood and horror when the real world can’t?
Tarantino has never made a film that ends up as sweet and nostalgic as his latest, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Tarantino loves Hollywood which is why this film is the ultimate love letter from him. You can tell from the moment Tarantino puts the camera behind Rick (DiCaprio) and Cliff (Pitt) as they drive through the curves of the Hollywood Hills. That’s something you come to love about LA only when you live there. He returns to it often. He also breathtakingly restores landmarks such as the Van Nuys Drive-In, the marquees on Hollywood Blvd, the Cinerama Dome, the Vine theater and even a Taco Bell (not a misprint), just to name a few. There’s no homeless people. No crime. No boarded-up stores or empty parking lots. Those were all there in 1969, of course, but not in Once Upon. Only the magic stands out. Familiar faces such as Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Mark Madsen, Lena Dunham and Damian Lewis stand out in small roles. And while Kurt Russell appears on screen as stunt coordinator it’s his gentle voice over that makes you eventually realize the narrator is not only reading from a book, but a fairy tale to be precise. Grade A-
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is Tarantino’s triumphant love letter to the tragic legacy of Sharon Tate. It plays around with themes, of a “what if?” world that, in its moments, feels good for a second, and then it makes us a little sad. I guess that’s the point. It’s like when you’re walking down the street, on a nice summer day, with nowhere to be, just looking around, enjoying your day. You are meandering, but it’s also enjoyable. You’re just taking it all in. This is a good way to describe Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. I’m glad this movie exists if, for nothing else, to introduce new generations to Sharon Tate. It’s obvious Tarantino isn’t just angry about what happened to Sharon Tate on her last night on this earth, but he’s also angry about what happened to her legacy. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood exists to try to change that legacy. And Tarantino succeeds.
Damian Lewis shows up in a brief, perfect cameo as Steve McQueen at the Playboy mansion, there solely to explain the oddly close relationship between Sharon Tate (a luminescent Margot Robbie), her husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), and Tate’s ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). I could’ve watched an entire spinoff about just that party. There are a lot of scenes like that in Once Upon A Time, to the point that I almost wish it was an HBO series.
Set in 1969 at the intersection of a changing film industry and social upheaval, Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film is the one it seems that is closest to its director, and it also happens to be his best. Ultimately, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is about friendship and loyalty, a film full of bittersweet truths with a certain wistfulness that is really Tarantino’s love letter to the Los Angeles he remembers as a 6 year old. From arguably the most influential director of his generation (if you look at how many films have been dubbed “Tarantinoesque” in recent years), this is one from the heart and, without going into great detail, might not be at all what you expect. But the less you know, the better. There is no question that Tarantino knows how to cast a movie. Like so many of his films, this one is loaded with fine actors in smaller parts.
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is a loving ode to and a subtle inside joke riffing on the era often described as the Golden Age of Hollywood. It is less a story than a time and place. It is driven not just by Tarantino’s nostalgia, but by that of a man seeing, closer than he’d like, the end of both his career and the theatrical movie as a defining art form. In essence, this latest magical history tour preparing to move on while saying one last farewell. The film is less an A-to-B-to-C story than a series of almost sketch comedy-like episodic individual scenes mostly centered on one of its core protagonists. Yes, it’s a dialogue-light role, but frankly, every character not played by DiCaprio and Pitt ends up being a glorified cameo. Most of the big stars (Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Luke Perry, Kurt Russell) and most of the marquee characters (Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee, Roman Polanski, Charles Manson) are relegated to a scene of gentle and fan-driven caricature. Tarantino intends to evoke a time and place, to bathe in somewhat fabricated innocence while confronting an unfathomable violation of the social code that blew it all apart. He’s as outraged by our present-tense indifference to what happened in 1969 as he was our comparative indifference to the horrors of Nazi Germany and the American slave trade, even if his anger is more personal. This isn’t a documentary about the old Hollywood nor a podcast about the Manson murders. It’s a character study that uses both as contextual seasoning toward a broader love letter about one crucial end of an era at the end of another.
Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” fulfills the promise of its title as a throwback fairy tale with two fictional showbiz buddies that just so happens to coincide with one of the most infamous killing sprees of the 20th century. The iconoclastic writer/director’s stamp is all over his ninth film (★★★ out of four; rated R; in theaters nationwide Friday), Tarantino’s signature style and humor melding with violence, a little melancholy and thought-provoking character drama. His vision of 1969 Hollywood feels authentic and alive, with a lot of that electricity running through the leads.
‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ feels like a cool late-summer breeze. An original spin on 1969-era Hollywood just on the cusp of shattering destruction is a welcome diversion compared to all the other familiar popcorn titles this season. Consider this our happily ever after.
Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is a misty-eyed valentine to La La Land — with just a touch of B-movie gore. A deep core of sadness lurks in even the sunniest corners of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s valentine to the Los Angeles of his youth. Set in 1969, six months before followers of cult leader Charles Manson murdered actress Sharon Tate and three of her friends, this particular fairy tale seeks both to preserve nostalgic Hollywood glamour and smooth over its most nihilistic contours. Putting a bevy of optimistic, newly minted stars into play alongside dogged almost-weres and never-beens in a balmy Southern Californian reverie, Tarantino might relish in evoking the era’s most sybaritic pleasures, but both he and the audience are all too aware of the unspeakable pain to come. “Hollywood” obeys the usual Tarantino structural rules of parallel story lines, opportunistic intersections, long, verbose set pieces and equally windy digressions. Tarantino cleverly exposes the dichotomous worlds of 1960s L.A.: a swinging, star-studded party at the Playboy Mansion serves as a cautionary mirror to the playboy Manson and his band of nubile wastrels. And the ways he confects to have them intersect are part of the fun of “Hollywood,” even if “fun” here comes with a toxic kick. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is of a piece with the filmmaker’s alternate-history oeuvre that seeks to tease the audience with some of history’s biggest what-ifs, allowing us to believe for a few hours that pure imaginative will is enough to reverse the most grievous wrongs.