Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019): ‘Tarantino’s History’ – A Film Review

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Quentin Tarantino, the much celebrated director, returns for his ninth film release. Notorious for his violence, film references and dialogue; his next film looks to be no different: Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood. The title itself a connotation of Sergio Leone‘s ‘Once Upon a Time’ trilogy; if not obvious by the concern with Hollywood, then Tarantino’s interest with cinema should be even more clear now. Tarantino holds a unique position in film history, in that he is now a director that is not only well known and marketable, but widely celebrated as being only able to make good films. Rumours that the film was about an age of cinema, the 1960s and true events are not unfounded. Real people are depicted within the film; amongst them are Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and Charles Manson (Damon Herriman)…

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The Films within Films

Despite being a long film by traditional standards at 162minutes, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood manages to keep things interesting and exciting throughout its runtime – a Tarantino staple. The interlocking stories recall previous films like Pulp Fiction but cleverly help to build a world of glamour, desperation, fragility, image and the studios behind the silver screens. Many different film styles are replicated and integrated into the film. A scene from The Great Escape interchanges Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) for Steve McQueen. Filmmaking styles are replicated, shown, mimicked and broken. Bringing you in and out of the multiplicity of diegesis. Somehow this seems to help the desperate need to perform an image. Technically and through the various performances the film is an absolute treat.

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Tarantino and the Real

The difficulty with the film lies with its controversy. Now, Tarantino is no stranger to controversy, usually through violence or language, he achieves this time and time again. He is also no stranger to depicting real events SPOILERS: or changing them. END OF SPOILERS. But, here, the main complication isn’t with the many complicated controversies, that are wonderfully detailed in this article; it is perhaps more accurate to go further. The end manages to complicate the events that lead up to it, mostly relying on real events to fill in the gaps. This is how the ending, when over, sits uneasily, if you remember for a moment that perhaps real people are being used and potentially disrespected for a story. SPOILERS. The film needs the Sharon Tate murders to have happened and for you to know about them. Otherwise, they are three people who break in and are far too brutally slaughtered before us. The police, also, strangely ignore the excessiveness of their violence. Why is it ok for Rick Dalton to torch a girl with a flamethrower (a controversial war weapon dropped by American military), because we know that in our reality she had killed a pregnant woman. But that’s just it, they didn’t here, so it feels jarring and out of place. END OF SPOILERS.

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Tarantino is a master of his craft and at his worst makes enjoyable films. He wants to challenge and complicate things. To say that this film is simply a child’s wish fulfilment fantasy is perhaps too harsh a criticism – there is a lot more substance here, especially technically – but it’s not too far from the mark either. Audiences will enjoy Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood but with an uneasiness, that perhaps will help provoke a thoughtful reflection, and this may help to consider the actual themes at play, but it does also hold back the film. SPOILERS: Furthermore it becomes harder to justify the parallel narrative involving Sharon Tate with the ending that subverts the expectations, particularly if you don’t know the real story. END OF SPOILERS.

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Rick Dalton is a past his day, western star. Cliff Boom (Brad Pitt) is his stunt double turned handyman. Sharon Tate is at the start of an impressive acting career. Their paths cross where filmmaking is an internationally celebrated business with all its charms and dangers. This fame brings the focus of the Charles Manson Family – a unique cult living on an old film ranch.




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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned

Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood (d. Quentin Tarantino USA/UK/China 2019)

Pulp Fiction (d. Quentin Tarantino USA 1994)

The Great Escape (d. John Sturges USA 1963)


Further Reading



Official Site

Cast Interview

Quentin Tarantino Interview

Second Cast Interview

Behind the Scenes

Cool Facts

Easter Eggs

The Controversies

Cast Comparisons

Manson Member Speaks about the Film’s Accuracy


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BlacKkKlansman (2018): ‘Racism Today’ – A Film Review

A Star is Born (2018): ‘Bradley Cooper Debuts into Realistic Filmmaking’ – A Film Review


This was an analytical review of….


Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood (d. Quentin Tarantino USA/UK/China 2019)

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