Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD?
Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood officially hit theaters on July 26, 2019.
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore.
The ninth film from the writer-director features a large ensemble cast and multiple storylines in a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood's golden age.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Peter Bart, Deadline: Tarantino's movie, too, though spirited and often hilarious, reflects that sense of imminent doom. His settings are real, but his events surreal. On that, Tarantino delivers, but in his own typically off-center way. Critics like to look "intellectual" by quoting Joan Didion's ruminations about the end of an era and a loss of innocence In 1969. There was no innocence to begin with. The Manson murders left people scared, except for those inhabiting Tarantino's movie. By his rewrite, even the Manson incident on Cielo Drive was perversely exhilarating.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood," which premiered today at Cannes, is not that total X Factor movie - though for long stretches (a good more than half of it), it feels like it could be. It comes closer than "Django Unchained" or (God knows) "The Hateful Eight." It's a heady, engrossing, kaleidoscopic, spectacularly detailed nostalgic splatter collage of a film, an epic tale of backlot Hollywood in 1969, which allows Tarantino to pile on all his obsessions, from drive-ins to donuts, from girls with guns to men with muscle cars and vendettas, from spaghetti Westerns to sexy bare feet. In this case, he doesn't have to work too hard to find spaces for those fixations, since Tarantino, in this 2-hour-and-39-minute tale of a Hollywood caught between eras, is reaching back to the very source of his dreams.
Prahlad Srihari, FirstPost: DiCaprio is, as you would expect, simply sensational and thrills with each emotional outburst. Pitt is equally sensational, combining an antihero charisma with his inimitable swagger. Robbie's talents are terribly underutilised due to her insubstantial role and dialogue. The depth of her character is defined by frequent "Meanwhile, let's check in on Tate" moments, which includes attending a screening of The Wrecking Crew, her own film with Dean Martin. Robbie is merely seen swaying, beaming and being pretty, like she were a sweet, innocent angel who does not belong in this cruel world. With her and the Manson girls, Tarantino's foot fetish is even more pronounced with an excess of sensualised foot shots.
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post: It's not clear that the deep meaning Tarantino attaches to an ugly, utterly meaningless act will resonate with anyone else as strongly. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is often diverting to watch, and it's been shot on 35mm film with lovingly expressive care by Robert Richardson. But true to its title, it plays like a bedtime story concocted by a petulant child who insists on getting his own back from the people who poisoned his most honeyed dreams. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is of a piece with the filmmaker's alternate-history oeuvre that seeks to tease the audience with some of history's biggest what-ifs, allowing us to believe for a few hours that pure imaginative will is enough to reverse the most grievous wrongs. Wouldn't it be pretty to think so.
Rex Reed, Observer: Rancid, preposterous and hysterically over the top in ideas and execution, "once upon a time" perfectly describes writer-director Quentin Tarantino's ninth film. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood is indeed another hopped-up fairy tale like every other Tarantino epic. In everything from the ghastly Reservoir Dogs to the screwy Pulp Fiction to the vastly superior Inglourious Basterds, the Tarantino oeuvre follows the same pattern: disorganized scripts that fall all over the screen like scattered newspaper clippings from the days when we still had newspapers, an over-long mixed bag of wonderful performances and strung-together scenes badly in need of tighter editing, leading up to one great scene at the end both wild and scatterbrained enough for delusional critics to label him "visionary." Hollywood is no exception. Imaginative and awful, it is typical Tarantino. Who else would envision the historic Manson gang massacre that gripped Tinseltown in a vise of terror as a comedy?
Anthony Lane, New Yorker: The movie is a long haul, running more than two and a half hours. There's an excursion to Rome. There's a splendid, if superfluous, battle between Cliff and a haughty Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). And, yes, there's a part for Nicholas Hammond, who was Friedrich in "The Sound of Music" (1965), as the eager director of a Western. Now and then, you get a sense, as with "Pulp Fiction" (1994), that, in Tarantino's thirst to entertain, he is trying too hard-striking attitudes for the simple sake of cool, and encouraging his players to push the limits. Rick Dalton is a pretty bad actor, and DiCaprio, a very good actor, strains every last fibre to dramatize that inadequacy; the scene in which Rick, having screwed up his lines on set, lays furious waste to his trailer strikes me as an indulgence, though DiCaprio's fans will doubtless hail his emotional bravado. Far more winning is Rick's conversation with a child star (Julia Butters), an eight-year-old adherent of the Method. Not since Henry Spofford III, at a similar age, hit on Marilyn Monroe's character, in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953), has precocity been such a gas. Who'd have guessed? After soaking adults in blood, in film upon film, Tarantino turns out to be great with kids.
Keith Phipps, The Verge: All the while, the film uses a scrupulous production design to create the illusion of time travel. Tarantino, as usual, draws on several sources. In this crucial respect, it most resembles Mike Mills' 20th Century Women, his memory-driven revisiting of the late 1970s. Though it's less directly autobiographical, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels similarly personal, like an attempt to re-create the world Tarantino glimpsed as a kid growing up in Los Angeles and, in the process, maybe better understanding that moment and capturing what was lost in August 1969. This happens on a personal level - Robbie's warm, openhearted performance as Tate helps humanize a woman who will be forever known as a murder victim - and a cultural level.
A.O. Scott, The New York Times: Don't get me wrong. Tarantino is still practicing a cinema of saturation, demanding the audience's total attention and bombarding us with allusions, visual jokes, flights of profane eloquence, daubs of throwaway beauty and gobs of premeditated gore. And yet "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood," whose title evokes bedtime stories as well as a pair of Sergio Leone masterpieces, is Tarantino's most relaxed movie by far, both because of its ambling, shaggy-dog structure and the easygoing rhythm of its scenes.
David Edelstein, Variety: For a while, Once Upon a Time seems as if it's going to be nothing but a series of extended digressions. But it's shaped like a Western, and gets better, tighter, and more surprising as it moseys along, plainly building to the grisly, still-inexplicable tragedy that's said to have ended the hedonistic feel of late-'60s Hollywood. Next door to Rick on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills live Roman Polanski - super-hot off ROSEMARY'S BABY - and his young bride, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whom we know going in will be butchered on the night of August 9, 1969, by Manson family members at the behest of their psychotic overlord. Tate is the film's third and lesser protagonist, but Robbie has one of its most moving scenes, in which Tate goes to a theater to watch herself in a new Dean Martin-Matt Helm movie. If Tarantino has a Dream Girl, it would be Robbie here, her dirt-smudged bare feet (he's notorious for his foot fetishism) on the chair in front of her, wide-eyed at seeing herself best Nancy Kwan in a karate fight. Be still my heart! That the footage onscreen is of the real Sharon Tate makes the sequence even more poignant.
Chris Klimek, NPR: It's a hilarious and enveloping fable replete with all the Tarantino hallmarks -stellar performances, instantly memorable dialogue, an expertly culled playlist of songs that (mostly) haven't been neutered by overexposure, long intervals of tension punctuated by brief but sickening violence. But there's something new to the mix this time. Not maturity, heaven forfend. It's more like tranquility, as the 56-year-old auteur reflects upon the passing of his era. There's an axle-grinding shift that occurs deep into the picture, but for 135 minutes or so it's the most relaxed and elegant filmmaking of Tarantino's career.
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: All the actors, in roles large and small, bring their A games to the film. Two hours and 40 minutes can feel long for some. I wouldn't change a frame. Tarantino laughs at a lot of things in his movies, especially his own leap through genres in films as diverse as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and both volumes of Kill Bill. But not for a minute does he fake his love for the Hollywood of the late Sixties. With the help of master cinematographer Robert Richardson, costume designer Arianne Phillips, and editor Fred Raskin, the period of backlot Hollywood is painstakingly recaptured. You can feel Tarantino's mad love for movies in all their disreputable dazzle and subversive art in every shot.