A new film by the master of dialogue, Quentin Tarantino, is always cause for celebration. Stretching back to 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s films are a genre all of their own, showcasing whip-smart conversation between multifaceted characters while mixing violence and pitch-black comedy in a shocking, profane manner. Classics like Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained demonstrate this perfectly.
His next movie is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and looks to feature all of the elements we have come to expect from this seminal auteur. Although Tarantino’s back catalogue is of a formidably high caliber, here is why we think Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could be his best so far...
What is the story of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood centres on a faded television star and his stunt double, as they strive to achieve fame and fortune in the film industry during the waning days of the hippy movement.
Set during the summer of 1969, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gives Tarantino a lot of real-world intrigue to play with, including appearances from legendary real-life actors Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). The summer of ‘69 also resulted in era-shattering tragedy, most infamously as a result of notorious serial killer Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and his disciples, who brutally murdered actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).
These horrifying events are threaded into Tarantino’s latest epic, which has been described as a modern fairy tale tribute to the final moments of Hollywood's Golden Age.
Who stars in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
It wouldn’t be a Tarantino venture without an assortment of returning collaborators, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has brought back some of his best. Leading the charge and heading up the film are two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.
Starring as struggling actor Rick Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth, respectively, both actors have worked with Tarantino in the past, with Pitt as the charismatic Lieutenant Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds and DiCaprio as the equally charismatic (but much more despicable) slave owner Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. This will, however, be the first time the two actors have starred opposite each other, and that alone is a huge cause for excitement.
Who is among the supporting cast?
Starring alongside Brad and Leo will be a host of talented A-list stars, including I, Tonya Oscar nominee Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, and Godfather acting legend Al Pacino as Rick Dalton’s agent. They join the likes of Deadwood’s Timothy Olyphant, the late Luke Perry, and frequent Tarantino collaborator Kurt Russell (Death Proof; The Hateful Eight) as stunt coordinator Randy.
And although the lack of Tarantino staple Samuel L Jackson will no doubt cause you to shed a tear, the sheer amount of talent on display is a very good sign indeed.
How will Tarantino tackle history in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is far from the first time that Tarantino has based his film on real-life topics. The director has already tackled slavery in the Antebellum Deep South in Django Unchained and he also depicted an alternate version of Nazi Germany in Inglourious Basterds. Each film was met with critical acclaim and box office success, with critics citing Tarantino’s bold interweaving of fact-based horror and uproarious, tongue-in-cheek contrivance. Such an approach further secured his reputation as one of modern day cinema’s most provocative film-makers.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gives the director another chance to delve into history, in this case the fascinating decline of Hollywood’s Golden Age, commenting on the juxtaposition between Tinseltown’s glitz and glamour and the infamously seedy undercurrent resulting from the steady rot of the hippy movement. The aforementioned Inglourious Basterds was also a self-referential salute to cinema and the importance of film-making, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood promises an expansion of such material.
Rick and Cliff’s story takes them from the low-rent world of American TV Westerns to the home of the burgeoning Spaghetti Western genre in Italy, where the former attempts to revive his career. This offers the chance for Tarantino to salute the conventions of a genre he has slyly referenced in his previous movies – just look at the Candieland arrival scene in Django Unchained as an example of how he grafts Western iconography onto the story of a vengeful slave.
It remains to be seen whether the Inglourious Basterds technique of rewriting history to ironic effect will be repeated here, but it is certainly an intriguing prospect.
What reviews has Once Upon a Time in Hollywood received?
Following the film’s premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, critics have been seduced by Tarantino’s ode to the movie industry. The Guardian gave the film top marks and commented on the "crazy bravura of Tarantino’s film-making" as well as the "moment-by-moment enjoyment that this movie delivers".
Collider’s rave review says the film "is the ultimate love letter" to Hollywood, and Slant Magazine call it Tarantino’s "magnum opus". And Slashfilm refers to the "provocative, great, obnoxious and brilliant" qualities of the director.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has been called sophisticated, touching and beautifully made while currently sitting at a very fresh 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. And so, it could very well turn out to be Tarantino’s greatest movie in a career studded with masterpieces.
Jon Fuge is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.