[Review] Once upon a time in Hollywood (2019) : Old is Gold


With its cast of pharaohs and hot topics, Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature is definitely the most anticipated summer film. A small masterpiece or a simple summer drink?

“I plan to stop at ten.” When the film came out, Tarantino fans knew they didn’t have much time left until the long-announced tally was over. While the director can always change his mind, the tone of his latest feature film still conveys a new seriousness, which is a sign of achievement. After dynamite western code in Django Unchained and the incredible Les Huits Salopards, he returns to us this summer through an era that has always made him fantasize. 25 years after Pulp Fiction, the choice of the mecca of cinema as a setting is no small matter. But Once Upon a Time in Hollywood showed much more maturity than its distant cousin, it is still considered his flagship work.

So unconventional, the synopsis of the film is deliberately starved. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a serial descendant and western actor looking for his way in an industry he is no longer familiar with. He tries to maintain his comfortable life accompanied by Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his official stuntman, but above all is a friend and handyman. Two ancient thieves, who saw their world dying as Hollywood became a landmark of the hippie wave and organized counterculture. Their neighbor, a certain Roman Polanski, might be the way out…

Tarantino was born in 63, but the performance of Once Upon makes us think it’s 20 years too late. The picture, soaked in the sun, is a glowing celluloid love letter (also called … Films-Flamme!). The sky, azure blue, makes us lament our Ray ban and the cars are shown under satin reflections, as if they had popped out of their advertising posters. All accompanied by a melancholic rock soundtrack, broadcasting the best hits from The Mama & The Papas, Jose Feliciano, Billy Stewart… Tarantino transcribes this American appeal as if he always wanted to be old enough to come along.

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The duo’s general history gives rise to a long patchwork of scenes that follow each other with an almost arrogant fluidity. Like introspection, Tarantino has fun filming within the film, while narrating the end of an era embraced by half a dozen stars. His small business is punctuated with very successful sketches, but also alongside the bloody Charles Manson “Family”. The latter doesn’t end up occupying the place we think it is, but it doesn’t really matter. Once out of the ordinary, he doesn’t hesitate to turn a neck to the official story to fit it into his delirium.

Like a bad boy, Tarantino mixes genres to prove to us that he can pull it off. It also pays homage to the “kilo forgettable films”, whose constant stream of releases keeps the industry alive, locking actors in roles for life. What Dalton couldn’t stand.

Since Django, he’s thus covered his story with a new form of bitterness, which we find here in subtle, but important ways. His work, structured like a retold memory, is more melancholic. That amateurs from the first hour convince themselves, they will be happy to discover one of their favorite gimmicks in a scene of aggravated violence… Which causes a commotion in the room.

Uniting two giants like DiCaprio and Pitt proved counterproductive. Not here. By establishing a de facto hierarchy between the two men, one working for the other, Tarantino could easily put DiCaprio ahead. Yet he chooses to forge authentic and touching friendships, which tie the actors together like two sides of the same coin. However, it gives them a real space of expression, where each of them can occupy a stage. From the moment Cliff drives Rick to work, the film is split in two.

For his part, DiCaprio uses all his talent to make us believe he doesn’t have it. And it worked. Adorned with a silly mustache, he forgot poor dialogue and was angry alone in the dressing room. He excels in the role of the fickle clown, who dreams of himself in Steve McQueen to eventually become the headliner of the films we often forget. With an almost paternalistic virtue, his friend tries to reassure him at the end of the day, when his fate is less rosy.

Beneath the Ray-Ban and his colorful shirt, Pitt embodies a handsome old man who tinkers with his everyday life. A shabby superhero, who spoils Bruce Lee’s face and eats the same noodles every night in his trailer. The type of person you want to date without being. Pitt with semafter embodying this side of the American dream, and nearly stole the show in the last half hour. These two actors are still well supported by the rest of the cast, impeccably. But it only serves as a foil as the two seem to be the only masters on board.

In general, we love to see these two tenors having fun playing, which they never will. The impression of seeing alternative truths is very important, and reminds us that certain choices can drastically change the life of an artist. Through portraits of this kind, which end up being quite rare in Tarantino, the film leaves the framework of entertainment to offer a true vision of cinema. And the exercises are interesting.