Critics hail Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as 'profound' masterwork
The 1969-set period dramedy — following Leonardo DiCaprio as a fading Western TV star, Rick Dalton, and his loyal stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they navigate the end of Hollywood’s golden age against the backdrop of the Charles Manson murders, which claimed the life of actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) — held its first public screening Tuesday at the annual film festival, where it was met with glowing reactions from attendees (and reportedly received a six-minute standing ovation).
In his five-star review, The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw compares the film’s tone to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, calling it “shocking, gripping,” and “dazzlingly shot” with “crazy bravura,” adding that audiences are likely to experience “moment-by-moment enjoyment that this movie delivers – and conversely, of course, to shudder at the horror and cruelty and its hallucinatory aftermath.”
The Telegraph critic Robbie Collin also gave the film five out of five stars, dubbing it “Tarantino’s non-stop-extraordinary ninth film, a hazily freewheeling Tarantinification of the horrific events” of the Manson murders that unfolds with “gleeful toxicity” as “the single most shocking sequence in Tarantino’s filmography.”
“It’s a grand playground for the director to further fetishize old pop culture, to break things and hurt people, and to bring a wide-eyed glee and a robust sense of perversity to the whole craft of moviemaking,” agrees The Wrap‘s Steve Pond.
Most critics — like Slash Film‘s Jason Gorber, who calls the film a “ridiculous, profound, silly and sublime” work — have also singled out the performances of DiCaprio and Pitt as perhaps the film’s finest elements.
“This pairing is simply magnificent. These are two of the finest actors of this or any other generation, and given this meaty dialogue, terrific character beats, and the swagger of the setting, they’re at the tops of the game,” he writes. “Neither has been better, and you’re witnessing some truly special performances captured for our viewing pleasure. Pitt’s laconic air and DiCaprio’s manic swagger combine to form an immediately iconic buddy pair.”
IndieWire‘s Eric Kohn provides a slightly more negative take, giving the film a B grade for its “rushed” payoff and meandering tone, further criticizing “America’s master of zippy dialogue and high-minded pastiche” for consolidating his skills as a master of referencing the aesthetic and style of other filmmakers. “[The film feels like] a sprawling vision of the film industry in 1969,” he concludes, “but Tarantino’s infectious love letter doesn’t have much of a plot. Instead, the filmmaker’s weirdest movie merges pre-Manson Hollywood with the looming specter of hippiedom. The result is a lopsided cultural mashup as viewed through Tarantino’s exuberant cinematic filter.”
Tarantino previously asked movie critics and early-access audiences to withhold revealing spoilers about the film’s plot after seeing the film on the Croisette.
“I love Cinema. You love Cinema. It’s the journey of discovering a story for the first time,” Tarantino wrote in a statement issued through distributor Sony Pictures’ Twitter account. “The cast and crew have worked so hard to create something original, and I only ask that everyone avoids revealing anything that would prevent later audiences from experiencing the film in the same way.”
Tarantino has a long history with Cannes, having previously earned his first (and, to date, only) Palme d’Or for his 1994 classic Pulp Fiction. He later entered Death Proof — his portion of the two-part 2007 feature Grindhouse — into the Cannes competition as a standalone title, as he did two years later with his Best Picture-nominated WWII film Inglourious Basterds.
Before it hits theaters stateside on July 26, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — also starring Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham, Rumer Willis, the late Luke Perry, and frequent Tarantino collaborators Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Kurt Russell — is next set to contend for Cannes awards this weekend at the festival’s closing ceremony. Until then, read on for more reviews for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Manhola Dargis (The New York Times)
“In Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Tarantino does a lot that’s familiar, including toggling between laughter and mayhem. The true jolt, though, is how melancholic the story finally plays; that is partly (rightly) because of the murders, which weigh heavily on the film in obvious ways. You’re always grimly aware that these aren’t just movie characters, but figures based on real people who belonged to the same ecosystem that Tarantino would eventually join. He knows exactly what lies ahead for the lost world — of Los Angeles but also of Hollywood — that he has so lovingly reimagined here, which is why this homage also has the ache of a requiem.”
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“It’s now August 8, 1969, and the rest of the film is devoted to Quentin Tarantino’s version of how the Manson murders play out, which I will not reveal. I will say that what Tarantino does here rhymes, to a point, with the violent climax of Inglourious Basterds. Yet that movie, as much as it toyed with history (which was no more, really, than any of the late-studio-system World War II movies it drew from), was also, in the largest sense, true to history. Hitler got destroyed, and the Americans won. Which is, in fact, what happened. The way Tarantino plays with the Manson murders in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is at once more extreme and more trivial. And frankly, for this Tarantino believer, that made it less satisfying. You can say, as many will, that it’s only a movie. But for much of Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, Tarantino brilliantly uses the presence of the Manson girls to suggest something in the Hollywood cosmos that’s diabolical in its bad vibes. And the way the movie resolves all this feels, frankly, too easy. By the end, Tarantino has done something that’s quintessentially Tarantino, but that no longer feels even vaguely revolutionary. He has reduced the story he’s telling to pulp.”
David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Quentin Tarantino renews his vows as a devout fanboy, rifling through his formative influences in vintage American B-movies and TV, spaghetti Westerns, martial arts, popular music and an endless assortment of cultural ephemera in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. In his ninth feature, the writer-director at the same time is having sly fun riffing on his own work, in particular his penchant for gleeful revisionist history. A sizeable audience will doubtless share that enjoyment, even if the two ambling hours of detours, recaps and diversions that precede the standard climactic explosion of graphic violence are virtually plotless.”
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian):
“It’s shocking, gripping, dazzlingly shot in the celluloid-primary colours of sky blue and sunset gold: colours with the warmth that Mama Cass sang about. The Los Angeles of 1969 is recovered with all Tarantino’s habitual intensity and delirious, hysterical connoisseurship of pop culture detail. But there’s something new here: not just erotic cinephilia, but TV-philia, an intense awareness of the small screen background to everyone’s lives. Opinions are going to divide about this film’s startling and spectacularly provocative ending, which Tarantino is concerned to keep secret and which I have no intention of revealing here. But certainly any ostensible error of taste is nothing like, say, those in the much admired Inglourious Basterds. And maybe worrying about taste is to miss the point of this bizarre Jacobean horror fantasy.”
Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair):
“What Tarantino really seems to want to do with the film is just talk about old stuff he likes. Which is nothing new for him—but here, those impulses are perhaps more unbridled than before. The director eschews plot for vignettes and asides, several of them long scenes of Rick filming a guest spot on a Western show. DiCaprio works himself into a brilliant lather in these moments, both when Rick is acting and when he’s back in his dressing room, heartbreakingly chastising himself for forgetting his lines. It’s exciting watching DiCaprio work in this register, all this emotional comedy in service of a richly and kindly realized character. But that’s all we’ve really got to hold onto as the film rambles, over the course of 160 minutes, to its perhaps inevitable end.”
Robbie Collin (The Telegraph):
“The film rambles along intriguingly and mostly non-violently, less the fairy tale promised by the title than a bundle of short stories, none of which give any obvious hints as to where they might end up. Where it does end is undoubtedly the big talking point, and one that would be insane to broach three months before its UK release – though it’s safe to say Rick and Cliff become embroiled to an extent, while the murders themselves must be the single most shocking sequence in Tarantino’s filmography for a number of reasons: one moment made me groan “oh no” out loud.”
Steve Pond (The Wrap):
“Tarantino has begged the press not to include any spoilers in reviews, and he had a Cannes official do the same on stage before the press screening began. (The announcement drew a few boos.) But it’s no spoiler (and probably no surprise, either) to say that Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is big, brash, ridiculous, too long, and in the end, invigorating. It’s a grand playground for the director to further fetishize old pop culture, to break things and hurt people, and to bring a wide-eyed glee and a robust sense of perversity to the whole craft of moviemaking.”
Eric Kohn (IndieWire):
“Quentin Tarantino has built a career out of celebrating movies by referencing his favorites, but with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he salutes the process of making them. America’s master of zippy dialogue and high-minded pastiche consolidates those skills into a sprawling vision of the film industry in 1969, but Tarantino’s infectious love letter doesn’t have much of a plot. Instead, the filmmaker’s weirdest movie merges pre-Manson Hollywood with the looming specter of hippiedom. The result is a lopsided cultural mashup as viewed through Tarantino’s exuberant cinematic filter.”
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood