Once Upon A Time in Hollywood First Reviews: Quentin Tarantino's Violent and Personal Ode to the Summer of '69

The very first reviews from Cannes say Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the movie Quentin Tarantino was born to make.

by | May 21, 2019 | Comments

Quentin Tarantino sent out a public message to critics and other attendees of the Cannes Film Festival not to spoil his new movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and for the most part the first reviews are keeping mum on details. What they are saying, though, is that this Tinseltown fairy tale is another enjoyable but also potentially controversial movie from the director of Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds. Following a lengthy standing ovation, the mixed reactions poured in celebrating the pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, the re-creation of 1969 Hollywood (the town and the pop culture) and hints of its unspeakable final act.

Here’s what critics are saying about Once Upon a Time in Hollwood:

What exactly are we in for?

“A love-letter to the tinsel town of the late ’60s? The story of a down-on-his-luck actor and his stuntman? A fairytale retelling of the Manson Family murder spree? The answer is all the above.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film / Games Radar

“Such a moving film, at once a love letter — and a dream — of the Hollywood that was.” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“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.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“A lopsided cultural mashup as viewed through Tarantino’s exuberant cinematic filter.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

How does Once Upon a Time… stack up against Tarantino’s other movies?

“If not a career best, it’s an extraordinary career summation.” – David Sexton, London Evening Standard

“In many ways, this is the most modern and realized of his films, a culmination of all the various pastiches to form a love letter to the past and a speculative fiction of what could have been.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

“The film takes its time to build up atmosphere and character. This may very well irk some of his newer fans, but for all of us who fell for QT’s cinema back in the 1990s, it is an absolutely welcome.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel
“For Tarantino this is an almost soft-hearted – for him – film…a new departure for the filmmaker. And the warmth is welcome.” – Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International

“It may be the first Tarantino film that leaves with a genuine sense of, wait for it, hope.” – Gregory Ellwood, Collider

“[It’s] the filmmaker’s weirdest movie…his ultimate hangout movie.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire
“The spectacular talkiness of previous Tarantino films is in shorter supply…Quentin Tarantino’s most contemplative movie until it isn’t.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“There is little here that has not been seen from Quentin Tarantino before…frankly, this time I was hoping for something more.” – Jo-Anne Titmarsh, HeyUGuys

“Tarantino at his most indulgent and unfocused.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film / Games Radar

Is it also his most personal work?

“This is the most personal movie of Tarantino’s career. You can feel the effect the Manson murders must have had on a 6 year-old QT living in 1969 L.A.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

“You can see it as the work of a 56-year-old artist wondering about his place in a changing industry.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“What Tarantino really seems to want to do with the film is just talk about old stuff he likes.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Joel Meares

So it’s also still another pop culture pastiche?

“It’s filled with homages to (or outright re-creations of) old TV shows, old movies, old advertising jingles: Tarantino indulges in his obsessions as he gets to direct all the stuff he loved as a kid.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“A clumsy voiceover ticks off the names of spaghetti western directors, from Peroni to Corbucci, as if Tarantino reverse-engineered the script by starting with the callouts and building the narrative from there.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

“Much of the reference-obsessed auteur’s latest is focused on the small screen…this marks an interesting—maybe telling?—shift for the director.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“This homage also has the ache of a requiem.” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

Can we expect the usual Tarantino type of soundtrack, too?

“The Tarantino jukebox gets the kind of workout it hasn’t since “Pulp Fiction” (Roy Head! Paul Revere and the Raiders! Neil Diamond! Vanilla Fudge!)” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“The soundtrack is trademark Tarantino – there are fewer deep cuts here, but with a late-’60s soundscape and a big production budget, there are some stupendous songs selected.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

Does it do a good job depicting the period?

“This film must have the most plausible, immersive depiction of late-Sixties L.A. since they shot films in L.A. in the late Sixties.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

“Tarantino’s recreation of the Hollywood of 1969 is absolutely gorgeous to behold.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

“Tarantino re-creates the Hollywood of 50 years ago with a fantastically detailed and almost swoony time-machine precision…the movie captures how Hollywood, by 1969, was a head-spinningly layered place.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“The production design is impeccable; when Cliff speeds around Burbank, he’s practically driving through a documentary.”- Eric Kohn, IndieWire

How are Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt together?

“Both stars are fiercely enjoyable to watch here in their first pairing.” – Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International

“Neither has been better, and you’re witnessing some truly special performances captured for our viewing pleasure…an immediately iconic buddy pair.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

“The film’s major asset is these two performances, both loose and funny and amiable…They have a beguiling chemistry.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Joel Meares

Who else stands out?

“[Margo Robbie is] the heart and soul of this film.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

“Margot Robbie gives a sympathetic portrayal of Tate, Dakota Fanning is intimidatingly sinister…and Lorenza Izzo has a spirited turn.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Mike Moh as Bruce Lee…is a highlight in a film of many highlights.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

“The slower moments have delicious touches or wonderful cameos (ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Freakin’ Dern!).” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“Familiar faces such as Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Mark Madsen, Lena Dunham and Damien Lewis stand out in small roles.” – Gregory Ellwood, Collider

What’s the movie’s biggest problems?

“The film takes its time, to the point where at times it starts to feel sluggish – but even the slower moments have delicious touches or wonderful cameos.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“There were stretches during my screening when I was a little bored…the lack of real connective tissue is often more frustrating than it is charming.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“[An] issue is the film’s length…Tarantino spends so much time in Rick’s fictional world that he leaves out time for the much more interesting real world.” – Jo-Anne Titmarsh, HeyUGuys

“He starts to use the narrator more often, breaking the show-don’t-tell mystique, and we wonder why. Isn’t he the master of showing?” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“Pitt’s character is capital-P problematic, absolutely by design – but the transgressive thrill is undeniable, and the artistry mesmerizingly assured.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

“There is no doubt that this is a very male movie.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

And how does Tarantino handle a certain notorious massacre?

“[It’s] a hazily freewheeling Tarantinification of the horrific events.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

“Entirely outrageous, disorientating, irresponsible, and also brilliant.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“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.”- Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

“Some may find [it] daring and others disturbing…time will tell whether general audiences believe the film commemorates or exploits the horrors of 1969 and its victims.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

Is it too violent?

“Sensationally violent even by Quentin’s high standards.” – David Sexton, London Evening Standard

“There are some shocking happenings from a gore standpoint although compared to other Tarantino fare it’s tempered a bit.” – Gregory Ellwood, Collider

“Suffice it to say that those starved for stylized violence will get their bone and like it.” – Charles Bramesco, Birth.Movies.Death

“When the movie’s truly gnarly spate of violence happens, it’s both grimly cathartic and revolting, a brief, horrific riot of crunch and gush that comes across a bit too gleeful.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

So we should just see it for ourselves?

“[Has] its fair share of problems…but it’s a film peppered with scenes of such magnificence [that its] diversions are worth taking.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film / Games Radar

“I defy anyone with red blood in their veins not to respond to the crazy bravura of Tarantino’s filmmaking, not to be bounced around the auditorium at the moment-by-moment enjoyment that this movie delivers – and conversely, of course, to shudder at the horror and cruelty and its hallucinatory aftermath.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Once Upon in Time in Hollywood opens in theaters July 26, 2019.

Adjusted Score: 110.077%
Critics Consensus: Thrillingly unrestrained yet solidly crafted, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tempers Tarantino's provocative impulses with the clarity of a mature filmmaker's vision.
Synopsis: Quentin Tarantino's ninth feature film is a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of... [More]
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

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