The world of meta-film is treacherous.
When a movie points a camera back at itself, it can be easy to fall into self-congratulating territory. Controversial-yet-iconic director Quentin Tarantino’s latest threads the needle, and puts another successful chapter on his impressive career.
In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Tarantino paints a story alongside real-life events, much like in his World War II flick “Inglorious Bastards.” This time, Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are (finally) paired up on screen as washed-up Western main man Rick Dalton and his trusty, pit bull-owning stunt double Cliff Booth, respectively. The duo do their best to navigate the shifting landscape of Summer of Love-era LA, as the simple movie industry they once knew evolves around and without them.
Tarantino complicates Dalton and Booth’s seemingly simple story by placing it in the midst of the Manson family murders in the late 1960s. The film pushes its realism by interweaving starlet Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, and the entirety of Manson’s family.
It’s not easy for any actor or actress to dissolve into their characters, especially when they’re as high profile as the two in question with this film, but both DiCaprio and Pitt pull out stunning performances. The has-been identities of their characters shines especially clear, as both DiCaprio and Pitt have seen their luster start to wear off in recent years as the new batch of leading men started to make their presence known in the digital age of film. Pitt presents his best performance in nearly a decade, humanizing the grizzliness of Booth—a toss-em-around tough guy on the surface, but a caring showman on the inside.
Although the performances are superb front to back, the standout element of “Once Upon” is, once again, Tarantino’s unparalleled directing. After his departure from his longstanding distribution partner, The Weinstein Company (for obvious reasons), Sony Pictures won the bidding war for “Once Upon,” allowing Tarantino a bevy of his demands, including “final cut privilege” and the reverting of film rights to him in a decade or two. Very few directors demand near complete creative control like he does, but there is good reason that studios bend the knee—products like these are what they get. At a runtime of over two and a half hours, the film had to flow effortlessly to prevent the audience from feeling antsy, and he pulled it off.
Above all, it’s great to immerse yourself in such a timeless world for a couple hours. You forget about your current troubles and find yourself on Sunset Boulevard, driving with characters in a make-believe universe sealed away from the worldly realities of the late 1960s, and smile. It never rains, it never snows and everyone looks like a movie star, because well, they are.
Tarantino deemed “Once Upon” his penultimate film, meaning he’s got one more left in the chamber before taking his director’s chair home for good. Here’s hoping his final flick is as nostalgic and beautiful as this one.
P.S. Pulp Fiction is still my favorite of his, don’t @ me.
Thumbnail photo from @onceinhollywood Instagram
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.