Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film brings his entire career into perspective for better or worse.

You could call the Oscar-winning screenwriter a genius, overrated, complicated, a master of nostalgia and none of them would be inaccurate.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is arguably his most ambitious film to date, and equally his messiest. With each new film (he says he is only going to make 10 total, he asks more of the audience, as he demands more of himself.

Not necessarily to think and figure out plot devices, rather to look back with him and understand the references he is making to the movies and television of yesteryear, in which Tarantino is a human encyclopedia. For audiences who are not familiar with those references, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” won’t mean as much.

Unnecessarily long in running time, Tarantino’s script follow three extremely different characters, two who interact regularly, and Sharon Tate who could be edited out of the film and yet the movie wouldn’t change one bit.

It’s 1969 in Hollywood and things are changing rapidly in the movie business. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) has become typecast as the “heavy” in westerns and action films. It’s only when producer and talent agent Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino) points out where his career is headed that he starts to worry about playing so many bad guys.

Dalton’s literal right hand man, former stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) remains by his side after all these years. Now a glorified handyman, spending his days driving the emotional movie star around to sets and meetings. Cliff is the stable one in this relationship, never fretting about anything.

As Dalton’s career seems to be headed into the sunset, just up the hill from his property is the Polanski residence where Hollywood’s new it girl Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) lives.

In his first film since taking home the Oscar for “The Revenant,” DiCaprio is given so much to work with in the character of Rick Dalton. He taps into nearly every emotion as the wild saga of this made up movie star plays out.

There isn’t a subtle moment in the obsessive portrayal, not that DiCaprio has ever been known for subtly. It’s a role entirely different from anything he’s ever done, yet draws in nearly every character he’s portrayed.

Pitt on the other hand, having played many a subtle performance in his life, delivers a more balanced character, equally, if not more interesting. Together the duo have some of the best chemistry in any of Tarantino’s flicks, and that’s saying much.

The usual cast of Tarantino favorites pop up for one or two scenes, but it’s Margot Robbie’s nearly silent performance that is the film’s head-scratcher and biggest misjudgment.

Her role as Sharon Tate feels plucked from a different movie as she has nothing to do with the main plot of the aging movie star and his faithful sidekick.

There are many “movie within a movie” scenes featuring Dalton shooting a movie, that run so long you almost forget what film you are in. Then, of course, he misses a line and has to start over, and you’re jolted from that spell.

Tarantino takes whatever time he wants to tell the story that is important to him. He’s never cared what others might think, but that is compounded in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

The editing fails to tighten this script he worked on for five years, it lingers on stuff that’s irrelevant to the main plot of the film. For those who don’t share Tarantino’s obsession with the past, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might get a bit boring until the final scene where he offers blood, gore and violence.

In a scene where a rare version of “California Dreamin’” plays on the radio, Booth picks Dalton up after a long day on the set, driving off into the warm sunset illustrates “what it must have been like to make movies back then” more than any other scene in this film or any other.

Final Thought – Tarantino’s love letter to ‘Hollywood’ is his messiest film to date, yet the wildly entertaining performances from Pitt and DiCaprio make it a must see.

Dustin Chase is a film critic and associate editor with Texas Art & Film, which is based in Galveston. Visit texasartfilm.com.

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