Home » Once Upon a Time in Hollywood review – Tarantino’s Masterpiece of Pure Cinema Intoxication

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood review – Tarantino’s Masterpiece of Pure Cinema Intoxication

by Ben Rolph

Words do no service to the absurdly high-level of talent seen, and in a defining sentence: pure cinema is what is seen in Tarantino’s ninth feature. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, backed by a stellar supporting cast, all individually worthy of the highest praise. There is something beguiling in the feeling you get when feasting your eyes upon this film, a fairy-tale-like quality is felt in the character arcs and the corresponding visuals.

This is perhaps Tarantino’s ‘Vertigo’, a film about film. It is executed with such acute mastery and control. Backing the meta-film aspect of Once Upon a Time is Tarantino’s razor-sharp humour and self-reflexive nature, to all who hardheartedly follow his work, you pick up on the minute in his acute sense of humour. Such as, Rick’s spaghetti western line, which is absolutely hysterical considering Tarantino’s favourite film and director is of Italian and Spaghetti western origin.


Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, failing TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognise anymore. It follows multiple storylines, neatly tying together for a shocking, yet satisfying conclusion. Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is seen living the LA movie-star life, with new husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and ‘close-friend’, Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). Underlying darkness brews as the inevitable arrives, only in a Tarantino-esc way.

The ninth film from the writer-director is a dazzling sensation. A tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age. With my second viewing, I’m certain it’s a masterpiece of incredible heights. Tarantino’s LA is a mystical feat of technicolor brilliance and what is captured is a feel that no other film of recent has captured. A sense of the other-worldly, a nostalgic feeling to a fascinating time-past. Robert Richardson’s Oscar-worthy cinematography keeps a focus on the retro-look and saturation of picture, whilst knowingly capturing less flare for the operatic as Tarantino’s intentions were in films like; Django Unchained and Kill Bill, not drawing too much attention away from the characters. 



Rick Dalton is utterly fascinating, what is portrayed is unlike anything DiCaprio has ever-done. He is fragile and lost, he is some-what bittersweet, but as the ending nears, he is whole again. After a second viewing, I was reaffirmed Leonardo DiCaprio gives the best performance of 2019. The investment into the depths of Tarantino’s meticulous characters is quite simply mesmerising. Brad Pitt’s Cliff, on the other hand, is at a loss in terms of career path, essentially Rick’s driver and searching for roles. He is without a doubt the heart and soul of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt’s portrayal is cheerful, snappy, quirky and carefree. Whilst, Robbie’s Tate is a nicely woven bow to the charming story.

The film doesn’t focus on narrative as so much as character, the individual characters and built with such depth and care, you feel as if you know them. Tarantino’s screenplay is impeccable, with the most fascinating and well-rounded storylines to hit the screen in years. It is pure cinema intoxication, outrageously funny, twisted and mesmerising.


With Rick nursing a fractured-ego, Cliff rides along his dying-ways with little to no care, but all the cool. The many breakdowns of Rick, shows the fragility and nuance DiCaprio puts in. Specifically, a funny-yet-touching scene with young actor Julia Butters as she essentially teaches Rick a lesson. A lesson that Rick takes to heart, it is through her that Rick is able to mend himself and become a whole person once more. The ending is fantastically outrageous, it unites all of the storylines in one terrifically Tarantino-esc deadpan, funny and stylised action piece choreographed to music.

Additionally, the mixing between the real and fictional on-screen shooting of Rick’s TV pilot and past films and television clips, add to make self-knowing reference to the art of film-making and how it’s seen. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn’t bound by genre, bouncing between reality and fiction, it has no bounds, and it’s all-the-better for it.


This film is without a doubt my favourite film of the year, showing a level of talent that is utterly overwhelming to the experience. Right now I’m routing for Margaret Qualley, Margot Robbie and Julia Butters to get their worthy-nods in the oscar race, as they are simply mesmerising in their own unique ways. Qualley for her conflicted portrayal of a Mansion-girl, showing vulnerability, quirkiness and a sense of fire. Robbie for her perfectly innocent and symbolic portrayal of Tate, she, like Cliff is the soul of the film. Finally, Butters, for her note-perfect few-scenes, opening Rick’s mind to the influence and showing the depth of nuance Tarantino wrote her character to act as, and she sure did act the hell out of it.

On the male-side of the actors, DiCaprio is unrecognisable as the lost, but-yet-redeemed Rick Dalton. A performance worthy of all the awards and recognition, the level of depth will be analysed in film schools and articles for years to come. Pitt is inhumanely-perfect, not a beat out of tune. Without a doubt, the front-runner in terms of actors.


Like all Quentin Tarantino films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has a slew of sledgehammer scenes. Like; the Playboy mansion dance, the Nazi film, Bruce Lee vs Cliff Booth, Rick’s breakdown, Rick’s advice, The Great Escape re-creation, the ending scene and so much more. It also wouldn’t be a Tarantino film without a outstanding soundtrack, it acts as a through-line to the ongoing stories, weaving 1960’s LA into the heart and soul of the film, which is the characters.


Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is pure cinema intoxication, it’s another Tarantino masterpiece, which in a way is his ‘Vertigo’, a film about film. Highlighting Tarantino as yet-again an unstoppable creative force like no other. Character is of key-note, this film features a list of far-too-many Oscar-worthy actors including; DiCaprio, Pitt, Qualley and Robbie to name a few. It ends in a redemptive and outrageous way that in itself is the perfect not on the bow to this decade-defining-story.

5/5 Stars ★★★★★

Ben Rolph




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