McCoy on Movies: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

McCoy on Movies: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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Tarantino is back with a comedy/crime tale featuring Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino. Read our movie critic’s review to see if it’s worth the watch.


“Hi … We’re also getting paid a ton of money for this!” Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) shakes hands with Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) while Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) looks on in a scene from writer/director Quentin Taratino’s wild and wacky ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Credit: Andrew Cooper. © 2018 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.




KEY CAST MEMBERS: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Qualley, Margaret Qualley, Damion Herriman, Emile Hirsch, Mike Moh, Lena Dunham, Julia Butters and Kurt Russell with Bruce Dern and Al Pacino

DIRECTOR(S): Quentin Tarantino

THE BACK STORY: Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a man at a crossroads. His TV career isn’t fulfilling him and his last leading role just got canceled, hence the reason he wishes to transition into films … But he’s having trouble doing so. His longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), however, is just at peace with his lot in life, driving Rick to and from set while hanging out with his loyal pooch in his AirStream trailer home. 

But while Rick laments his falling star and Cliff tries to make him realize the sky isn’t falling with it, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is living the high life as Rick’s new neighbor. Married to hotshot director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), Sharon is enjoying a budding movie career and life with her husband … And her ex-boyfriend/hairdresser to the stars Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). 

While Cliff is living his life fairly carefree, things are about to change when he picks up a hippie hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley) who can’t wait for him to meet Squeaky (Dakota Fanning), Tex (Austin Qualley) and Charlie (Damion Herriman). But since Charlie is the leader of a “family” that has a very unique view on the world, things are about to change in a way that only can happen in a Taratino-helmed picture …

THE REVIEW: For a movie that’s 2 hours and 40 minutes-plus in length, you would be inclined to hope Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wouldn’t feel a bit (1) disjointed; (2) incomplete; (3) half-baked and (4) have some focus storytelling flair to match its visuals that are writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the last “golden era” of Hollywood. Instead, what you have are two movies in one: (1) A buddy comedy about an aging film star (DiCaprio’s Dalton) finding his place in the world and (2) a crime fantasy drama about the Manson family and a stuntman’s interaction with them.

If that sounds a bit confusing to you, watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will make it clearer how they are connected … Even though you will likely leave the theater with feelings as mixed as the movie itself.

A man who loves to do things brash and big, there is no wonder why Tarantino would love to explore the world of Hollywood in the 1960s. Likewise, given his penchant for crime tales and revisionist history, there is plenty of source material for Tarantino to utilize. Instead, Once Upon feels more like exploiting all of the glitz and glamour before devolving into a live-action cartoon of South Park-level insanity but with Family Guy-like intelligence. (By the way, I like both cartoons, but let’s be honest: One has gone from frathouse humor to a near graduate studies course on modern socio-political issues while the other will throw out a Conway Twitty clip or a chicken fight when there isn’t a more involved punchline.) Once Upon instead is a hodgepodge of everything that Tarantino wants to cram into a movie; problem is, when you try to cram everything in, a lot of those things don’t get the time they need to develop. And when you have a movie that is trying to essentially be two things in one, it often doesn’t work. Once Upon suffers this fate as the true crime aspects – Tarantino’s take features real people, but isn’t exactly based on a true story – at times feel forced and Dalton’s story was worthy of its own movie, not one in which it shares it with another idea.

On a positive note, DiCaprio does DiCaprio things which prove his worth as one of modern Hollywood’s best actors with Pitt smiling and charming his way as only he can through his scenes. Problem is, that’s pretty much all Pitt does save for the film’s twisted final 20 minutes. His interaction with the Manson Family is a bit like a pro wrestling character: You either buy it or you just kinda go “meh.”

The real tragedy may be Robbie’s performance, or rather the lack thereof of it. Robbie does very little as Sharon Tate other than laugh, smile, giggle and hug – that’s it – but it’s not her fault. There’s really not much else to her role nor is she given any opportunity to showcase why she could have been a compelling person other than a tragic footnote in real-life Hollywood history. With so much that could have been done with the character, Tarantino’s tribute to her feels more like a caricature of her, needless to say it does not achieve the desired result.

The main thing that will stick with audiences, however, is that outside of the Dalton tale, the film feels grandiose, long as its runtime and just a really potluck of stories and storytelling. If Tarantino’s plan really is to retire after 10 films, he’s going to need a dynamite exit piece to atone for the Once Upon. For this is the equivalent to New Coke, Kanye West’s 808 & Heartbreaks, the last season of Game of Thrones and LeBron James leaving Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach. Sure, there will be plenty of die-hard Tarantino fans that will laud it as the greatest thing since his last greatest thing, but the causal fan may simply go “I get it … But was it really worth getting?”

For a film that attempts to entertain by celebrating and then exploring Hollywood’s Golden Age, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be fortunate to settle for anything close to bronze.





Columnist - Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. An award-winning stand-up comedian who also works as the public relations director at Cincinnati Museum Center, Tabari McCoy is the creator of McCoy on Movies, a blog about movies for film fans. The blog is written by someone who also likes movies that is smart enough to know his opinion isn't always the right one but is willing to express that opinion in public. McCoy also used to review movies for his college paper and a major metropolitan publication, so that helps add to his "street cred." Contact him at You can also check out more of his work on his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy.