Why Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Looks Like a Hit

Once upon a time, Quentin Tarantino made movies that film buffs, critics, and the casual fan all considered must-see material. That was the ’90s, when Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown all hit theaters in the space of five years. It was quite a run.

The first decade of the 21st century wasn’t the same for Tarantino. With a sharp turn to genre pictures (the Kill Bill series, Grindhouse), the writer-director had veered a long way from his tight, controlled debut. picture

Following the Cannes premiere of his latest film, Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, Tarantino looks to be gunning for success on the level of his hits from two decades ago. Early returns from the press are far more positive than they were for, say, The Hateful Eight and other recent outings.

Given the star power, setting, and Cannes feedback, Tarantino may even have his next hit on his hands.

Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio’s first time together as co-stars

Brad Pitt plays stuntman and friend to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.’ | Sony Pictures

Though it seems impossible that Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio never starred in a movie together, it’s true. Not even the Ocean’s 11 franchise brought the two on-screen in tandem. Tarantino’s latest is a first in that regard.

Part of the reason we never got a Pitt-DiCaprio pairing might be financial. For so many years, it would have taken a massive budget to pay both for the same picture. In Once Upon a Time, Tarantino benefited from DiCaprio opting for a pay cut ($10 million) to get it done.

As fading actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double/pal Cliff Booth (Pitt), the two romp through the first half of the film in a sun-drenched Hollywood in ’69. (From the notices coming out of Cannes, it seems to be a superior version of The Nice Guys.)

But the fun can only last so long. Eventually, the story shifts to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband, Roman Polanski. That means we’re headed for a collision course with the Manson Family. However, Tarantino appears to have curbed his goriest impulses out of respect for his subject.

Margot Robbie and a measured take on the Manson murders

Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate in the new Tarantino picture. | Sony Pictures

A story of a grisly cult murder — that of a beautiful young movie star in her prime — can only be so wistful and nostalgic (as reviews say Once Upon a Time is). However, reviews from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times both suggest Tarantino handled his tough subject with tact.

In fact, the Times reviewer described it as a “homage [that] also has the ache of a requiem.” The audience gets to see Tate (Robbie) enjoy her life as a budding star, and the portrayal of this period will be new for moviegoers of younger generations.

Time’s review by Stephanie Zacharek echoed these sentiments, with Zacharek calling it Tarantino’s “most affectionate movie since Jackie Brown … [and] among his finest.”

When you have the aforementioned star-power plus Tarantino working at a high level, it looks like Once Upon a Time could very well be the summer film audiences have been clamoring for.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!