News

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood First Reviews: Quentin Tarantino's Violent and Personal Ode to the Summer of '69

The very first reviews from Cannes say Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the movie Quentin Tarantino was born to make.

by | May 21, 2019 | Comments

Quentin Tarantino sent out a public message to critics and other attendees of the Cannes Film Festival not to spoil his new movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and for the most part the first reviews are keeping mum on details. What they are saying, though, is that this Tinseltown fairy tale is another enjoyable but also potentially controversial movie from the director of Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds. Following a lengthy standing ovation, the mixed reactions poured in celebrating the pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, the re-creation of 1969 Hollywood (the town and the pop culture) and hints of its unspeakable final act.

Here’s what critics are saying about Once Upon a Time in Hollwood:


What exactly are we in for?

“A love-letter to the tinsel town of the late ’60s? The story of a down-on-his-luck actor and his stuntman? A fairytale retelling of the Manson Family murder spree? The answer is all the above.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film / Games Radar

“Such a moving film, at once a love letter — and a dream — of the Hollywood that was.” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“A grand playground for the director to further fetishize old pop culture, to break things and hurt people, and to bring a wide-eyed glee and a robust sense of perversity to the whole craft of moviemaking.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“A lopsided cultural mashup as viewed through Tarantino’s exuberant cinematic filter.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

How does Once Upon a Time… stack up against Tarantino’s other movies?

“If not a career best, it’s an extraordinary career summation.” – David Sexton, London Evening Standard

“In many ways, this is the most modern and realized of his films, a culmination of all the various pastiches to form a love letter to the past and a speculative fiction of what could have been.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

“The film takes its time to build up atmosphere and character. This may very well irk some of his newer fans, but for all of us who fell for QT’s cinema back in the 1990s, it is an absolutely welcome.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel
“For Tarantino this is an almost soft-hearted – for him – film…a new departure for the filmmaker. And the warmth is welcome.” – Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International

“It may be the first Tarantino film that leaves with a genuine sense of, wait for it, hope.” – Gregory Ellwood, Collider

“[It’s] the filmmaker’s weirdest movie…his ultimate hangout movie.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire
“The spectacular talkiness of previous Tarantino films is in shorter supply…Quentin Tarantino’s most contemplative movie until it isn’t.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“There is little here that has not been seen from Quentin Tarantino before…frankly, this time I was hoping for something more.” – Jo-Anne Titmarsh, HeyUGuys

“Tarantino at his most indulgent and unfocused.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film / Games Radar


Is it also his most personal work?

“This is the most personal movie of Tarantino’s career. You can feel the effect the Manson murders must have had on a 6 year-old QT living in 1969 L.A.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

“You can see it as the work of a 56-year-old artist wondering about his place in a changing industry.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“What Tarantino really seems to want to do with the film is just talk about old stuff he likes.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

So it’s also still another pop culture pastiche?

“It’s filled with homages to (or outright re-creations of) old TV shows, old movies, old advertising jingles: Tarantino indulges in his obsessions as he gets to direct all the stuff he loved as a kid.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“A clumsy voiceover ticks off the names of spaghetti western directors, from Peroni to Corbucci, as if Tarantino reverse-engineered the script by starting with the callouts and building the narrative from there.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

“Much of the reference-obsessed auteur’s latest is focused on the small screen…this marks an interesting—maybe telling?—shift for the director.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“This homage also has the ache of a requiem.” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

Can we expect the usual Tarantino type of soundtrack, too?

“The Tarantino jukebox gets the kind of workout it hasn’t since “Pulp Fiction” (Roy Head! Paul Revere and the Raiders! Neil Diamond! Vanilla Fudge!)” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“The soundtrack is trademark Tarantino – there are fewer deep cuts here, but with a late-’60s soundscape and a big production budget, there are some stupendous songs selected.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

Does it do a good job depicting the period?

“This film must have the most plausible, immersive depiction of late-Sixties L.A. since they shot films in L.A. in the late Sixties.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

“Tarantino’s recreation of the Hollywood of 1969 is absolutely gorgeous to behold.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

“Tarantino re-creates the Hollywood of 50 years ago with a fantastically detailed and almost swoony time-machine precision…the movie captures how Hollywood, by 1969, was a head-spinningly layered place.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“The production design is impeccable; when Cliff speeds around Burbank, he’s practically driving through a documentary.”- Eric Kohn, IndieWire


How are Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt together?

“Both stars are fiercely enjoyable to watch here in their first pairing.” – Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International

“Neither has been better, and you’re witnessing some truly special performances captured for our viewing pleasure…an immediately iconic buddy pair.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

“The film’s major asset is these two performances, both loose and funny and amiable…They have a beguiling chemistry.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


Who else stands out?

“[Margo Robbie is] the heart and soul of this film.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

“Margot Robbie gives a sympathetic portrayal of Tate, Dakota Fanning is intimidatingly sinister…and Lorenza Izzo has a spirited turn.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Mike Moh as Bruce Lee…is a highlight in a film of many highlights.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

“The slower moments have delicious touches or wonderful cameos (ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Freakin’ Dern!).” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“Familiar faces such as Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Mark Madsen, Lena Dunham and Damien Lewis stand out in small roles.” – Gregory Ellwood, Collider


What’s the movie’s biggest problems?

“The film takes its time, to the point where at times it starts to feel sluggish – but even the slower moments have delicious touches or wonderful cameos.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“There were stretches during my screening when I was a little bored…the lack of real connective tissue is often more frustrating than it is charming.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“[An] issue is the film’s length…Tarantino spends so much time in Rick’s fictional world that he leaves out time for the much more interesting real world.” – Jo-Anne Titmarsh, HeyUGuys

“He starts to use the narrator more often, breaking the show-don’t-tell mystique, and we wonder why. Isn’t he the master of showing?” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“Pitt’s character is capital-P problematic, absolutely by design – but the transgressive thrill is undeniable, and the artistry mesmerizingly assured.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

“There is no doubt that this is a very male movie.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian


And how does Tarantino handle a certain notorious massacre?

“[It’s] a hazily freewheeling Tarantinification of the horrific events.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

“Entirely outrageous, disorientating, irresponsible, and also brilliant.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“The murders themselves must be the single most shocking sequence in Tarantino’s filmography for a number of reasons: one moment made me groan “oh no” out loud.”- Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

“Some may find [it] daring and others disturbing…time will tell whether general audiences believe the film commemorates or exploits the horrors of 1969 and its victims.” – Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

Is it too violent?

“Sensationally violent even by Quentin’s high standards.” – David Sexton, London Evening Standard

“There are some shocking happenings from a gore standpoint although compared to other Tarantino fare it’s tempered a bit.” – Gregory Ellwood, Collider

“Suffice it to say that those starved for stylized violence will get their bone and like it.” – Charles Bramesco, Birth.Movies.Death

“When the movie’s truly gnarly spate of violence happens, it’s both grimly cathartic and revolting, a brief, horrific riot of crunch and gush that comes across a bit too gleeful.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


So we should just see it for ourselves?

“[Has] its fair share of problems…but it’s a film peppered with scenes of such magnificence [that its] diversions are worth taking.” – Jordan Farley, Total Film / Games Radar

“I defy anyone with red blood in their veins not to respond to the crazy bravura of Tarantino’s filmmaking, not to be bounced around the auditorium at the moment-by-moment enjoyment that this movie delivers – and conversely, of course, to shudder at the horror and cruelty and its hallucinatory aftermath.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian


Once Upon in Time in Hollywood opens in theaters July 26, 2019.

#1
Adjusted Score: 109.793%
Critics Consensus: Thrillingly unrestrained yet solidly crafted, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tempers Tarantino's provocative impulses with the clarity of a mature filmmaker's vision.
Synopsis: Quentin Tarantino's ninth feature film is a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of... [More]
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

Ellie Kemper Country Podcast television Interview DC Comics 71st Emmy Awards TBS vampires diversity BBC America zero dark thirty crime thriller Musical Ghostbusters Paramount TLC SundanceTV Cannes DC Universe Vudu Comics on TV Captain marvel casting SXSW 45 zombie free movies cancelled television ghosts Rom-Com TruTV CBS Writers Guild of America RT History Action San Diego Comic-Con police drama Acorn TV what to watch IFC Films PBS Mary poppins Quiz Extras 2017 Food Network renewed TV shows Nominations technology Certified Fresh Schedule Marvel Winter TV streaming Women's History Month TV theme song BBC historical drama aliens Lionsgate Netflix SDCC Apple cats Calendar BET Superheroe Nat Geo Peacock Rock APB children's TV biography Columbia Pictures Pixar Warner Bros. Comedy Central Drama Film Festival docudrama FXX composers Rocky PaleyFest latino Photos dramedy TNT Best and Worst MTV GoT Heroines 2019 Awards Tour romantic comedy Shudder Tomatazos WGN TCA 2017 crime Superheroes CW Seed NYCC cancelled TV shows boxoffice Shondaland based on movie Tarantino CBS All Access Lucasfilm Apple TV+ See It Skip It political drama thriller The Witch IFC cops Teen Rocketman award winner LGBTQ Ovation Comic Book true crime comiccon batman canceled Valentine's Day Dark Horse Comics science fiction TIFF Music X-Men Stephen King discovery zombies Summer game of thrones teaser Esquire adaptation Crackle Disney Channel FX Martial Arts First Reviews The CW CMT VICE Comedy Fall TV mockumentary cancelled TV series 21st Century Fox MCU joker American Society of Cinematographers Television Academy harry potter slashers Musicals dc singing competition Bravo Pet Sematary YouTube Premium dceu kids TV Land Trophy Talk Red Carpet Pirates Universal RT21 Awards miniseries talk show revenge El Rey Winners Anna Paquin Family TCM DirecTV hispanic A&E serial killer Set visit Amazon Prime TCA anime Binge Guide spinoff Trailer WarnerMedia cinemax Amazon Prime Video Freeform hist doctor who The Walking Dead ITV politics Chernobyl transformers natural history psycho Thanksgiving Spike YA halloween First Look OWN Cosplay Nickelodeon Spectrum Originals crossover National Geographic cars HBO Max festivals ABC movies golden globes war DC streaming service Oscars USA Network Opinion sports social media medical drama 20th Century Fox DGA Star Wars 007 Tumblr Polls and Games Black Mirror Disney Plus adventure USA FOX Kids & Family south america ESPN E3 Pop green book Showtime Reality Trivia sitcom Star Trek Spring TV ratings foreign strong female leads video Sundance Now Character Guide YouTube New York Comic Con Mary Tyler Moore Lifetime series spider-man ABC Family Arrowverse Sundance Fox News GLAAD Brie Larson Hulu romance period drama travel Emmy Nominations Horror Walt Disney Pictures Mystery Mary Poppins Returns GIFs spy thriller Animation Infographic Box Office Biopics Pride Month psychological thriller Sneak Peek Disney robots breaking bad Elton John YouTube Red Amazon Fantasy blaxploitation jamie lee curtis finale tv talk Video Games Holidays supernatural space mutant 2015 Premiere Dates Sci-Fi cancelled stand-up comedy Super Bowl anthology Paramount Network Christmas Election Logo Creative Arts Emmys cooking Marathons Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Starz game show spanish language toy story CNN 24 frames Emmys cults spain unscripted VH1 elevated horror canceled TV shows nature animated crime drama MSNBC binge Reality Competition Syfy 2018 E! LGBT Sony Pictures book President HBO quibi Mindy Kaling disaster facebook comic Countdown Song of Ice and Fire The Purge Toys Year in Review Disney streaming service witnail Watching Series The Arrangement Masterpiece 2016 justice league Film NBC Mudbound Grammys Chilling Adventures of Sabrina AMC Cartoon Network TV renewals Epix dragons Western richard e. Grant Adult Swim History sequel Britbox