REVIEW: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

You can call me Hagrid. Not because I’m hairy – because I’m not. And not because I own a dragon – because, surprisingly, I do not.

But because for the past week, I’ve been saying to myself “I should not have said that”. (There’s a nice, fresh, brand-spanking-new reference for you there, guys and gals.)

I saw Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood at a preview screening on Monday, 29 July. I was so excited that I took to Twitter and warned any other cinema-goers that I may actually pee myself during the screening. Which is why I was so shocked when the people in the row in front of me kicked off after I urinated on their ankles. I did warn you.

Unfortunately, after the film had ended, I left deflated. Not because it was a bad movie, but because it didn’t meet my overwhelming expectations.

“But why did you give it a four star rating if it was so disappointing?” I hear you cry. And if you’re not crying it, you’re letting yourselves down.

I realised that I was in a pretty foul mood on the day of the screening; I was tired from having come back from Majorca the day before, and you can usually rely on England to be a lot cooler than the Balearic Islands, but not on the day of this screening. I had spent several bothered hours in a stuffy cinema with little-to-no air conditioning, and I think I was just willing for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to be over.

In the name of science – and, by “science” I mean “ogling Leonardo DiCaprio” – I watched Once Upon a Time again, and after my second viewing, I realise that all of the times I told friends and co-workers that it was just okay was a huge lie, and now I sound like a complete moron who has stupidly called himself The Movie Dweeb. I cannot insist enough that if you are going to watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, make sure you’re well-rested and cool; you’ll have a much better viewing experience than I did the first time around.

I don’t know what I was thinking, disliking a movie by Tarantino and featuring DiCaprio, Pitt and Clooney. It’s like being handed a sandwich made of marshmallows, rainbows and happiness, and just opting for a Tesco ham sandwich. We can all agree that that is the worst piece of food in existence.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of a soon-to-be washed-up actor, Rick Dalton (played effortlessly by Leonardo DiCaprio), who confides in his stuntman and best friend, Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth. Much like most of the film, this relationship references a real life moment between Burt Reynolds and his stuntman, Hal Needham. Either this is a beautiful nod to the Hollywood of yesteryear, or Quentin’s just a really lazy storyteller.

There’s another nice nod to reality, when it’s apparent that Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff, allegedly murdered his wife on a boat, mirroring the rumours that Robert Wagner killed his. This just proves how much of a passion project this was for director, Tarantino.

Meanwhile, Margot Robbie appears as Rick Dalton’s pregnant next door neighbour, who just so happens to be up-and-coming star, Sharon Tate. I’m sure that anyone who’s interested in seeing this movie will know that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood confronts the horrific moment the Manson Family brutally murdered Sharon Tate in her home, with several of her friends.

What sort of Tarantino film would this be if there weren’t spoilers to spoil? So here’s your spoiler warning. Don’t say I don’t spoil you.

In a similar vein to Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino re-writes history by having Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth kill the Manson Family before they could reach Tate. The only issue I had with this was that it wasn’t a huge, shocking moment for me, having seen Inglorious Basterds. In fact, it was almost expected. After all, up until this point, I genuinely struggled to see why they used Sharon Tate’s image at all. Throughout the entirety of the movie, Margot Robbie had very little screen time, and when she did appear, most of her scenes were shot in a cinema; a place where you notoriously shouldn’t speak much. If only the noisy buggars who were grazing on fourteen tonnes of popcorn behind me in the screening of this film would read this.

That’s not to say that the final chapter, where Leo and Brad take down the Manson Family isn’t magnificent. It was my favourite part of the entire movie. After smoking an acid-infused cigarette, Brad Pitt’s stuntman fights in a trippy, giggly brawl with three of the Manson Family, and viciously murders them. I don’t do it justice when I say “viciously”; I mean he rips them apart, limb from limb in a horrific, gory display of blood-splattering brutality. And it’s perfect. As Cliff’s dog gnaws on one of the murderer’s groin, Brad Pitt is repeatedly slamming another’s face into a brick ledge. Meanwhile, another, who is screaming in pain after having glass shards shattered in her face and eyes, is being torched to death by a flamethrower-wielding Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve seen criticisms that this over-the-top violence is insensitive, given the real-life subject matter, but I think it’s perfect. This may be an unpopular opinion but… I don’t think the Manson Family were that nice. To see them become a bumbling farce was hilarious. I have no qualms with seeing them writhe about in flames. And, honestly, if you do, maybe I won’t give you my home address anytime soon.

As soon as you see the poster for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and gaze into Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s eyes, you’re thinking one of two things; have my babies, sweethearts, or this is going to be an incredibly well-acted movie. I thought the first, and then the second. And then the first again. Not only did they portray their respective characters flawlessly, but I think their casting was wise. DiCaprio and Pitt really are two of the last remaining Hollywood icons, and it almost veered into meta-territory seeing them complain about new stars taking over the screen. But I couldn’t help but think of how brilliant it would’ve been to cast a washed-up star in the leading role, and nod to that. Tarantino’s not against working with that calibre of star – take Pam Grier in Jackie Brown – and it’s amazing to see self-referential nods, such as Michael Keaton playing an ex-superhero actor in Birdman. Imagine a world where Brendan Fraser stars in a Tarantino movie.

I take it back. I’m relieved DiCaprio is the leading actor. Soz, Fraser.

As for Margot Robbie, I’m always blown away be her performances; her breakout role in Wolf of Wall Street was phenomenal, and her Oscar-nominated role as Tonya Harding was one of her best-to-date, but I couldn’t help but feel she was under-utilised in this film. Margot’s Sharon Tate was often seen from afar, entering her house as Brad Pitt and Leo exchanged dialogue – she very rarely had scenes to herself, and when she did, the main focus was on… Her fucking feet. If you ever needed confirmation that Quentin digs feet, this is it. There’s Margot feet. There’s Leo feet. There’s feet in the cinema. There’s feet smeared against car windshields. After watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it took me three days before I even took my socks off at risk of Quentin Tarantino abseiling from my roof and smashing through my bedroom window, just to shot them with a camera.

Visually, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of Tarantino’s finest. Set in the late 60s/early 70s, Quentin chose to shoot everything using props and backdrops, rather than SFX, meaning all of the retro cars and vintage billboards were all actually there. The only scene that I could tell was digitally edited was when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton reminisces of a time he nearly landed the role of The Cooler King in The Great Escape. I wasn’t necessarily overly keen on this moment, but it was a nice bit of humour, as were a lot of the frequent cutaway gags throughout. Who knew a Tarantino movie would be so similar to, say, Family Guy?

During my first overheated, tired viewing of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I was bored of the character building; I wanted more drama and action, but – actually – upon my second watch, I realised that these were some of the best, funniest moments, such as when Cliff’s feeding his dog after smoking the acid-soaked cigarette, or when he – unbeknownst to him – faces the Manson Family trying to find his old friend, rancher George Spahn, during a very tense, very long scene.

I’d like to apologise to myself, my friends, Quentin, Leonardo and the rest of the cast and crew behind Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as well as – well – the rest of humanity, for initially saying I didn’t enjoy the film. I was wrong, and I have learned from my mistakes.

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