Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch

Author

It’s obvious at this point that Tarantino has hard-on for 60’s and 70’s, not only or the time period itself, but also for film and television of the era. He’s got a knack for capturing the sets and costumes of the time and jamming each shot with authentic signs and ads and products, degrading all of the visuals just enough with camera tricks and film stocks to make it look like it’s really from the time. And he does the same with the music and sound, capturing not just fringy songs from the era but also the bumpers and commercials, putting a final touch everything with the analog audio glitches we used to hear on TV and radio. I’m sure this was a fun movie for him to make.

But we’re so wrapped up with the style and sounds and props of the era that there’s not much of a story hook. Instead of a larger dramatic rise and fall, we have his favorite actors playing fringy characters meandering their way from scene to scene. There are some scenes that have a fun tension in them, like the hippie commune. And Bruce Lee getting thrown into the side of a car had me rolling. But stringing scenes together doesn’t make a movie.

DiCaprio’s pretty good, the meta-acting in his movies and TV shows is fantastic. Pitt’s easy-going but complicated character is fun and engaging. There’s some meat there, making this one of my favorite Pitt roles and performances. Butters is darling as the little girl.

But I’ve always thought that the performances that Tarantino coaxes out of his characters are not period appropriate. For someone who is so particular about how things look and sound, there is something a bit off about his actors’ performances. Actors of the 60’s and 70’s were a little distant, their performances a little stiff, their awareness of themselves as movie stars comfortable in their own skin was not there yet. Tarantino’s performances are too contemporary, too modern, too aware. It’s a subtle difference, but there’s something there that is off.

I really like the alternative history thing that Tarantino occasionally does (also Inglourious Basterds). Wouldn’t it be fun if there was a director who specialized in alternative history movies?

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