Having never been entirely won over by the clever-clever period genre revisionism that has been Tarantino’s mainstay since Bill was killed, I was delighted — after all the lurid what-if speculation over the film’s relationship to the Charles Manson story — to find that his latest is, in such large part, a kind of gorgeously lacquered megabudget hangout movie.
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It sits at the mature end of Tarantino’s work, bringing his tongue-in-cheek storytelling together with exquisite craft and killer lead performances from Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. And yet, it’s still very much a Tarantino film, trading in genuine emotion one minute, unapolegetically silly the next.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is uneven, unwieldy in its structure and not without its flat patches. But it's also a disarming and characteristically subversive love letter to its inspiration.
Tarantino’s desire to salute the creative thrill of storytelling is an inviting, welcome presence in American cinema, and his ninth feature suggests he really ought to work more often. But all the vivid callbacks to antiquated TV westerns and the forgotten characters in their orbit fall short of coalescing into much more than that.
Once Upon A Time….in Hollywood is beautifully made. Beyond all the ‘Tarantino-esque’ touches of the action, the banter, the violence, the constant movie references, there’s a real craft at play here.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is bold, beautiful and brutal. It’s Tarantino’s best film since Kill Bill, perhaps even since Pulp Fiction.
DiCaprio and Pitt fill out their roles with such rawhide movie-star conviction that we’re happy to settle back and watch Tarantino unfurl this tale in any direction he wants.
Quite simply, I just defy anyone with red blood in their veins not to respond to the crazy bravura of Tarantino’s film-making, not to be bounced around the auditorium at the moment-by-moment enjoyment that this movie delivers.
This curious fairy tale may not be the truth, and it may prattle on too long. But when its stars align, and they let loose with their unmistakable shine, Hollywood movies do seem truly special again. And, sure, maybe TV does too.
There’s a gleeful toxicity here that will launch a thousand think-pieces – Pitt’s character is capital-P problematic, absolutely by design – but the transgressive thrill is undeniable, and the artistry mesmerisingly assured.