THE MOVIE GUY — Love letter to old Hollywood

Published 12:08 am Friday, July 26, 2019

If you believe the rumors, director Quentin Tarantino claims that he is getting out of the filmmaking business. His latest project, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” arrives in theaters this week. If this is the beginning of his swan song, then the acclaimed director is going out with a bang.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is an entertaining love letter to old Hollywood, filled with gorgeous cinematography, painstakingly detailed production design, superb acting and many of those infamous QT touches. I don’t think that it rises to the same level of in-your-face filmmaking as found in some of his earlier films, but there is still plenty to admire here.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a washed-up actor who’s been reduced to playing villains in TV shows. Brad Pitt is his best friend and long-time stunt double. Much of the movie follows these two men as they drive around Los Angeles, trying to keep their careers afloat, even while the Golden Age of Hollywood is fading into the seedy 70s.

This gives the film a sense of melancholy, which is exacerbated by the arrival of real-world characters like Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). It’s impossible to watch these characters without thinking about the tragedy to come, but Tarantino and company do their best to keep you in a rose-colored moment. I found this vibe to be enchanting.

I also loved the acting. There are multiple cameos that put a smile on my face, while the leading actors are superb. DiCaprio has charisma to burn and Pitt nearly steals the show with one of the best performances of his career.

The other performer on display here is obviously Tarantino, and he doesn’t disappoint. The film’s production design is so detailed that I would have been happy just driving around Los Angeles, basking in the time travel on display in this movie.

That being said, there is a whole lot of driving around, which pushes the running time to 2 hours and 40 minutes. Throw in a gonzo ending that will divide some audiences, and you have a film that has some issues that will divide audiences. For my part, I was able to forgive the problems and simply enjoy this well-crafted drama.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” thrills because Tarantino’s love for old Hollywood is so enmeshed into the film that it’s impossible not to be swept up in his passion for the project. This may not be one of his most memorable films ever, but it’s certainly one of his best. It will be a shame if he’s really planning to retire after delivering films as good as this.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.