FILM UNFILTERED – ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ not one of Tarantino’s best

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7/30/2019

By TOM BURKE

HHH

Last week saw the cinematic return of Quentin Tarantino, the director behind “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill.” His films are known for lengthy dialogue, ensemble casts and an excessive amount of gore and violence.

His new offering “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has all of these characteristic traits but unfortunately is not nearly as entertaining as some of his previous films.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, an actor whose best years may be behind him and he and his longtime stunt double and trusted partner in escapades is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Together they are living through the end of the ’60s and facing an unknown future since both men appear to be washed up and aimless. Dalton also happens to live next door to up-and-coming actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha).

The film spends an inordinate amount of time to showing how desperate and pathetic Dalton and Booth are and eventually give each character a quick flashback sequence to show how they’ve come to their current situations. Most notably is that Dalton is an insufferable drunk who can’t drive, and Booth allegedly killed his wife and is now Dalton’s driver, buddy and babysitter. Their separate stories eventually coalesce into one tidy ending.

What does start to emerge very quickly is that Tarantino loves this era perhaps more than any other and dives full bore into the counterculture of 1969, hippies and the heyday of the Sunset strip in Los Angeles.

The constant murmur of the radio disc jockey is as present throughout this film as is that perfect California weather. Tarantino has jam packed this movie full of all manner of audio hits and a few obscurities onto this soundtrack and there’s plenty of recognizable tunes used in some pretty poignant sequences.

The drawback to this film compared to so many of his others is that the buildup to the finale is agonizing at points, and a telltale sign that I’m struggling or bored during a movie is how often I glance at my watch and I did this numerous times throughout.

Tarantino is known for lengthy dialogue and long moments of heavy conversation between characters and there’s no shortage of that here. The relationship between Booth and Dalton is amusing, but it becomes a tad redundant.

Pitt is the stronger actor here and is the more enjoyable character to watch. He is enigmatic, sneaky, amusing and ruthless. DiCaprio’s Dalton at times comes off as too whiny, bordering on pathetic, and while I tolerate DiCaprio as an actor, I don’t think he is in the same caliber as Pitt. DiCaprio was great in “The Departed” but there have been other films he’s been in that I just don’t find him that impressive, especially “The Revenant,” which was just horrid. There are some great actors who do show up in small roles, such as Al Pacino and Kurt Russell.

The third act culminates into one impressive, 25-minute, Tarantino ending that will have you roaring. But for me, this is a middle of the road outing for director Tarantino. It is a well-written story but I felt there were too many points in this film that languished.

The film is rated R.

Leonardo DiCaprio, right, plays Rick Dalton, an actor whose best years may be behind him, and Brad Pitt is his longtime stunt double and friend, Cliff Booth, in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”