Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Cannes 2019: Tarantino's star-studded period mosaic is compelling, provocative and uneven

Cinema is the ultimate purveyor of dreams for Quentin Tarantino. It has allowed him to recreate lost times, recalibrate familiar genres and even rewrite history in the case of Inglourious Basterds. Perhaps we should blame him for the rise of fake news? The very title of his latest epic Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has a suggestion of grandeur and the promise of a fairytale.

Tarantino's baggy opus immerses us in the Hollywood of 1969. It is a Twilight of the Gods moment in the city of dreams and actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) already fears he is becoming a has-been. The star of television hit 'Bounty Law' has seen his career dwindle to guest spots in episodic dramas. Studio bigwig Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino) thinks his best career option is making spaghetti westerns in Italian.

Dalton has the abiding friendship of his stuntman, driver and gofer Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Tarantino imagines their world with an almost fetishistic attention to detail that stretches from movie studio logos to gleaming cars, neighbourhood cinemas and lurid posters of Dalton's greatest, guns-blazing exploitation hits.

Dalton happens to be the Hollywood neighbour of rising star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband Roman Polanski. The film gradually intertwines their lives as it moves inexorably towards the violence unleashed by Charles Manson and his followers.

Tarantino's period mosaic is a compelling, provocative but, frankly, uneven affair. He devotes surprisingly little time to the sweet, sunny Tate and rather too much time to the production of a television western featuring Dalton. There are scenes that crackle with tension, a darkly charismatic performance from the seemingly ageless Pitt and moments of black comedy and savage, sustained violence. Even with all his impeccable craft and cinematic flair, there is nevertheless a niggling sense of reservation that this time Tarantino may have bitten off more than he was able to chew.

Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2019. General release from Wed 14 Aug.

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