‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Review: Tarantino’s LA Love Letter

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Once Upon a time in Hollywood

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ (Photo by Andrew Cooper © 2019 CTMG, Inc)

“All right, what’s the matter, partner?” asks Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). “It’s official, old buddy…I’m a has-been,” replies Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) after a meeting with a Hollywood producer has Dalton thinking his best days of acting are behind him in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The year is 1969 and Rick Dalton, the former star of a popular Western television series, is struggling to reinvigorate his career by guest starring in TV pilots. He’s even considering going to Italy to make Spaghetti Westerns. His best friend, chauffeur, and stunt double Cliff Booth spends his days and nights driving Dalton to sets, running errands for him, and trying to keep his ego from hitting rock bottom.

Living next door to Dalton is film director Roman Polanski and his wife, the gorgeous actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) whose career is on the rise. Dalton confesses to Booth one evening as he’s being driven home that maybe one night he’ll be invited to one of Polanski’s parties and that would be it, career restarted.

As Dalton struggles on a set to play a villain in a popular TV show, Booth drives around in Dalton’s Cadillac Coupe DeVille. He picks up a cute young hippie hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley) who he’s seen – and smiled at – before. She asks him to take her to the Spahn movie ranch in Chatsworth where she lives with other hippies. She’s excited for Booth to meet her friend Charlie Manson but finds out he’s already off on a road trip.

Booth, who has a bad feeling about the group of people his new hitchhiker friend’s hanging out with, decides to check things out. He’s not there long before he makes a wise decision and takes his leave of the place.


As Dalton tries to save what’s left of his career under the watchful eye of his long-time best friend, he and Booth – along with Sharon Tate – are set on a collision course to a bloody and murderous night in Hollywood that will change their lives forever.

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood uses revisionist history to create a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood. With skillful craftsmanship, incredible period costumes, and outstanding set design, Tarantino working in collaboration with production designer Barbara Ling and set decorator Nancy Haigh have managed to bring back to life 1969 Hollywood in all its glory. It’s a monumental achievement likely to earn technical year-end award nominations.

Leonardo DiCaprio delivers an effective, high-strung performance as Rick Dalton, a once promising TV action star whose career is now headed into a downward spiral fueled by self-doubt and desperation. DiCaprio’s Dalton is a whiny, self-absorbed, semi-talented man who’s starting to face the fact he will never be as good as he thought he would be.

Brad Pitt delivers one of his best performances to date as the cool, not quick to anger best friend and stunt double who wouldn’t have any kind of career in Hollywood if it wasn’t for his friendship with Dalton. Pitt’s Cliff Booth is the rock Dalton leans on both to keep him grounded and to get his ego boost when he needs it. Pitt and DiCaprio have solid chemistry together and come off as old best friends who are as close as brothers and just as loyal, always looking out for each other in difficult situations.

Margot Robbie shines as Sharon Tate, the sweet, bubbly, and very likeable wife of Roman Polanski whose acting career is just getting off the ground. Robbie perfectly captures Tate’s innocence and kind nature as well as her love of music and fun. One of the film’s weaknesses is that Robbie doesn’t get enough screen time as Tate.

Clocking in at around two and a half hours, the film does start to lose some of its momentum and interest early in the third act. Fortunately, Tarantino gets it back on track as it becomes suspenseful and intense while building to a climax.

With superb set and production design, engaging performances, and a fantastic soundtrack (a Tarantino trademark), Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does a terrific job of entertaining the audience while paying tribute to an era in filmmaking and Hollywood that’s long since disappeared.

GRADE: B

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references

Release Date: July 26, 2019

Running Time: 159 minutes




Kevin Finnerty

Professional film critic since 2003 and a member of the San Diego Film Critics Society. Host of “The Movie Guys” radio film review show from 2007 through 2013. Film and television critic for Showbizjunkies.com and a movie buff since 1973.
Kevin Finnerty
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