One of the best films of 2019 comes to home video

We get to this point of the year, and the deliberations begin as to what the best film is. Ranking things and lists seem unavoidable, complicated by a wealth of cinematic greatness that has come our way in 2019. While OUATIH is in the mix at the top end of my “‘”Best of” list, I feel pretty confident in saying it’s certainly my favorite film of the year. A culmination of Tarantino’s work and ideas, brimming with talent, OUATIH is a film that celebrates bromance, a bygone era, and the life of Sharon Tate.


Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore. The ninth film from the writer-director features a large ensemble cast and multiple storylines in a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood delivers everything you expect from Tarantino: a pastiche of older films, a distinct visual flair, memorable characters spouting enthralling dialog and sparking witty exchanges, a healthy punctuation of violence, and a stonking score. But it arrives with an air of uncertainty with its setting, looking to not only explore the cinematic and social scene in 1960s LA, but dark events involving the murder of Sharon Tate and four other people. The film opens with something of a flashback, introducing us to our two leads during their own ‘golden era’, partnered on an NBC Western series called Bounty Law. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the star, while Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his “load carrying” stunt double. Lurching forward in time, we see that Dalton’s aspirations to light up the big screen have faltered; instead he’s reduced to playing the “heavy,” a villainous guest spot on whatever new pilot or show is filming that week. Cliff, however, seems content assuming a role as Rick’s driver, point man, and best friend. A new agent, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino), points out to Rick that while he’s getting work, it’s not exactly helping build his image and career, urging him to explore opportunities in Italian cinema. As Rick’s star fades, one rises in the form of Sharon Tate (a luminous Margot Robbie), who just happens to live next door with her husband and director Roman Polanski. As their careers shift through 1969, the film moves towards that fateful evening on Cielo Drive.

Tarantino’s love of cinema is well known, and setting a feature in such a rich period in Hollywood history allows him to indulge many of his trademarks and nods toward his genres of choice: the Western, Italian cinema, Kung Fu, and more. It’s a love letter to film and the industry not too unlike that depicted in Hail Caesar! More than an indulgence, it’s a setting that allows Tarantino to immerse us in the relationship between Rick and Cliff. Theirs is a genuine partnership built on respect and love for each other. Each is in a business where fame, image, and connections matter. Where time is the enemy of all and seems to be catching up to them both. It’s not just the film industry that is going through a change, but the social order too. All the while a growing sense of unease creeps into view as the Manson cult skirts the periphery of their lives. The cultural shift of the time is well embodied by the Sharon Tate murder, a loss of innocence and of potential. While many might have feared the film to be somewhat exploitative of these events, the truth is far from it. Instead Tarantino treads a path that not only expresses affection for Tate and what she represents, it also very clearly condemns the Manson family and their evil acts. The finale will provoke plenty of discussion and sets itself apart in tone from the rest of the film, but it’s hard to think of a more fitting way for the filmmaker to revisit history.

Pitt is effortlessly cool, playful, exuding charisma but with a streak of danger to him, something greatly aided by a running joke about an incident involving his ex-wife. DiCaprio turns in his best work in years as Dalton, jaded and sad, but still striving to nurture that inner confidence and talent, desperate to maintain his career, image, and legacy. The genuine rapport and affection between them, as well as their old school Hollywood stardom, bring so much charm and warmth to the picture, investing you in their shifting lives and relationship. Robbie gets far less to do than you may expect, but she carves out some pivotal and special moments in the film, most notably a joyous scene where she slips into a screening of one of Tate’s own films, The Wrecking Crew. Her presence is more symbolic than anything else, a delicately weighted but important contribution to the whole. As you’d expect from a Tarantino flick, it’s replete with great actors and performances, notably Julia Butters, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Mike Moh, Bruce Dern, Margaret Qualley (Tarantino’s new feet fixation?), and a very good girl indeed in Brandy the dog.

There aren’t enough words to praise the effort that went into the actual production work here, bringing 1969 LA back to life in spectacular fashion. Tarantino works with a hazy dreamy aesthetic from cinematographer Robert Richardson and is fueled by a vibrant period inspired soundtrack. The film is also a fascinating critique of the industry shifts, actor treatment, and maneuvering within the system that was, and indeed still is happening. While not as snappy as some of his work, Hollywood feels like a more mature and confident piece from the director, hearkening back to the longer dialogue and character driven scenes of Jackie Brown while pulling from the revisionist history angle of Inglorious Basterds. It’s a film to bask in, one brimming with humanity, hilarity, and everything else you’d expect from Tarantino.

The Package

The transfer shows off really impressive levels of detail and depth, and a palette with warm, robust colors (and a mild yellow tint). It’s a very textured presentation, one that maintains a nice level of grain that gives it a film quality. Extra features are solid, if a little lacking in length/depth:

  • Over Twenty Minutes of Additional Scenes: Spread over 7 different scenes, they include a number of short promos, the full length music/dance number for Rick Dalton’s advert, extra scenes from the Lancer TV show, and another scene with Charlie Manson.
  • Quentin Tarantino’s Love Letter to Hollywood: Assembly of interviews where cast and crew offer their thoughts on how personal a project this is for Tarantino — 5 minutes.
  • Bob Richardson — For the Love of Film: The films cinematographer talks about realizing old Hollywood in a short featurette.
  • Shop Talk — The Cars of 1969: Another short extra, but one that’s very worth a watch, offering info on how/why the various cars seen in the film were selected.
  • Restoring Hollywood — The Production Design of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood: Just under 10 minutes, a more in depth look at how the various members of the production team (helmed by Barbara Lane) recreated late ‘60s LA. This is the kind of featurette you’ll crave after seeing the film and its a shame its not longer and more detailed.
  • The Fashion of 1969: Unsurprisingly costume design (Arianne Phillips) centered. Pretty cool addition, especially with the reveals about some of Sharon Tate’s personal attire.
  • DVD and Digital download code

The Bottom Line

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino at his most assured, using DiCaprio, Pitt, and Robbie to pay tribute to a lost era and a tragically lost talent. An affectionate exploration of bromance in a bygone age, brimming with heart and humor, that only gets better with each rewatch, something aided by this rather splendid home video release.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is available on Blu-ray from December 10th, 2019.

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