Review: In ‘Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood,’ Tarantino contemplates and embraces his version of an era

There’s a shot early in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” that will strike those fluent in the cinematic language of its writer-director, Quentin Tarantino, as something very anti-Quentin Tarantino.

The camera is closed in tight – real tight, as if ready to surprise – on a swatch of paint, and begins to move, gingerly, over what we eventually come to recognize as the illustrated face of Rick Dalton, Leonardo DiCaprio’s fictionalized drunken actor in 1969 Los Angeles. The face eventually comes to take up the entire frame, feeling larger than life, but we’re still not quite sure where we are—there’s no background chatter, no camera flashes. Just morning ambience.

It’s an uncharacteristically quiet moment to open a Tarantino film, like the auteur paying a more patient kind of homage to the cinema he’s built a career of borrowing from and remixing. As if he, and we, are observing it from a church pew.

Not too long after, the impression is shattered. Tarantino reveals the grand nature of that opening to be a fakeout—instead of a massive billboard overseeing Sunset Boulevard, the artwork is propped up on cinder blocks on the end of a driveway, like an artifact time has forgotten. It’s a plot-building surprise right up the alley of a director whose name itself evokes polarization and debate. “Once Upon a Time…” – an evocative, romantic, violent, metatextual, questionable reimagining of a time and place that is all of those things – will also be polarizing, and absolutely lead to debate. Continue reading →