It is 1969 and fading TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age in Los Angeles.
Review by Louise Keller: In a compelling onscreen pairing, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt look as though they are having great fun in Quentin Tarantino's audacious exploitation movie as it navigates life in Hollywood's fast lane. It doesn't hurt that they are both easy on the eye, and there's true grit in their individual performances as the nuance of their characters is fleshed out.
In the company of fading, heavy-drinking TV star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his wild-card stunt-double buddy Cliff Booth (Pitt), the film is blackly funny and ignites a splashy, violent ending, soaked in Tarantino-esque bravura. It may not be as complete a film as Pulp Fiction and the action dips in the middle, but it's jam-packed with Tarantino spice and sizzles with high energy. It's a highly enjoyable voyeuristic ride, punctuated by a peek into the Playboy Mansion, a hilarious physical encounter with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the backlots of Hollywood, an unnerving sequence at the Charles Manson hippie commune and a controversial perspective to the Sharon Tate murder.
While Rick indulges in his blender-filled frozen margaritas floating in the pool of his Hollywood mansion, Cliff happily settles down for the night in his trailer with Brandy, his well-trained pittbull, bloody Mary in hand (Brandy was awarded the Palm Dog Award by the 2019 Cannes Film Festival). Tarantino indulges in his own fantasies of 1969 Hollywood, beautifully portraying Rick's awe at his celebrity neighbours, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. Margot Robbie is perfectly cast as the striking beauty. We are all ears at the lavish party scene for all the gossip.
Tarantino effectively uses flashback to flesh out character and teases us in the scenes when Cliff first spies Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), the leggy, uninhibited hippie in tiny denim shorts and bare midriff. The lead up to the bloody climactic scene is well flagged and we are ready for the gruesome onslaught.
There is no shortage of colour. Watch for Al Pacino as a Hollywood agent; Damian Lewis as a loose-lipped Steve McQueen; Kurt Russell as the onset stunt co-ordinator and Julia Butters in a scene stealing role as an 8 year old actress who displays worldly wisdom playing against DiCaprio's insecure western star.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a great Tarantino yarn, coloured and stretched to the filmmaker's own recipe; echoes of the Mamas and the Papas' California Dreaming playing in the background. The humour is cumulative; the characters unforgettable; the violence brutal.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With his signature flourishes, Quentin Tarantino embeds himself in 60s Hollywood for a dark, bitter sweet glimpse inside the belly of the beast, where human nature's flaws are magnified on and by the movies. But it's not the 'typical' Tarantino film, although one scene of violence is very much QT. No, it's more serious in intent, and less pandering to the quick-hit-seeking youth who devour his films.
Still, Tarantino's inherent sardonic humour colours much of the film, albeit often with great subtlety. That's to be enjoyed. He also coaxes high grade performances from his two male leads, Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton the Hollywood star and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, his trusty stunt double - and all purpose buddy. Margot Robbie adds lustre as the ill fated Sharon Tate in a lovely role that is the sweetener in the otherwise bitter story.
Al Pacino relishes his role as Marvin Schwarzs, a mover and shaker who rides Hollywood like a sports car ... speaking of which, the cars are key signatures in the film, worth taking note.
The supporting cast sparkle - or not, as the screenplay demands - and cameos by Mike Moh as Bruce Lee (a comic scene) and Bruce Dern as an old codger add terrific texture.
Expecting a degree of film sophistication from his audience, Tarantino splices together odds and ends to help collate the visual sense of the late 60s, and keeps surprising us with a screenplay as twisting as the Hollywood Hills.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD(MA15+) (UK, US, China, 2019)
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Damon Herriman, Austin Butler, Emile Hirsch, Scoot McNairy, Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Nicholas Hammond, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, James Marsden, Michael Madsen
PRODUCER: Quentin Tarantino, David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh