'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood': What the Critics Are Saying

Reviewers who filed stories from the Cannes Film Festival have an overall positive view of Quentin Tarantino's love letter to '60s L.A., though some are divided on its ending.

Reviews are in for Quentin Tarantino's ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday and resulted in a six-minute standing ovation. Though critics who filed reviews from the French festival had some reservations, they too were positive about the project, particularly commending the film's performances and evocative setting.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, with Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Tim Roth, James Marsden and Timothy Olyphant in supporting roles, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows a faded television actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) as they try to achieve fame in the film industry in 1969 Los Angeles. Tarantino directed the film from his own screenplay. 

In The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney emphasized how the look of the film contributes to the bold storytelling. "With richly detailed input from production designer Barbara Ling and beyond-cool retro fashions from costumer Arianne Phillips, Tarantino folds the low-key buddy comedy into a lovingly recreated, almost fetishistic celebration of late ‘60s Hollywood, infused with color and vitality by cinematographer Robbie Richardson," the critic writes. He went on to highlight one of the best scenes, "when Cliff drives Pussycat home to the disused Spahn Movie Ranch and has an uneasy meeting with her adoptive family members, including wary mother Gypsy (Lena Dunham) and an openly hostile Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning)." Rooney concludes his review by mentioning a few criticisms of the film, followed by a deep compliment. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is uneven, unwieldy in its structure and not without its flat patches. But it's also a disarming and characteristically subversive love letter to its inspiration." 

For The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw praised the visual spectacle of the film. "It’s shocking, gripping, dazzlingly shot in the celluloid-primary colors of sky blue and sunset gold: colors with the warmth that Mama Cass sang about." He goes on to highlight the detailed world that Tarantino built, suggesting there's something new to experience: "not just erotic cinephilia, but TV-philia, an intense awareness of the small screen background to everyone’s lives," writes the critic. Considering the "startling and provocative" ending, Bradshaw notes that opinions are going to be divided, yet he does not give spoilers as to what fresh eyes can expect. He gives the film five stars, labeling it "outrageous, disorientating entertainment."

Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson praised the first onscreen pairing of DiCaprio and Pitt, who the critic argued had an effortless chemistry. "One’s allegiance to the film is consistently won back by DiCaprio and Pitt, who make easy, and disarmingly humble, platonic poetry out of this curious dynamic," he wrote. Still, Lawson felt that Tarantino's allegiance to waxing poetic on his various cultural enthusiasms led the film to occasionally lag, saying that at times in the screening he was "a little bored" and felt some of the scenes didn't connect much to the other. Nevertheless, "[Tarantino's] always been a great director of actors, and here he manages to wipe away some of the gunk of time and fame to find an indefinable It-ness that used to get people noticed at lunch counters," Lawson writes in his overall positive review. "In so doing, Tarantino lets us access some of the love he so ardently wants us to feel for all his cherished arcana."

For The Evening Standard, David Sexton noted that the film was split up into two parts, one a "a highly enjoyable but pretty leisurely in-joke, a fond homage to the way Hollywood was back in the day" and the second a denouement that is "sensationally violent even by Quentin's high standards." Sexton also praises DiCaprio's and Pitt's performances as a frustrated, hard-drinking B-movie actor and his indelibly cool and relaxed sidekick, respectively, while he praises Al Pacino's brief cameo as DiCaprio's character's agent. Sexton doesn't say much about the finale, but notes the film, "if not a career best, [is] an extraordinary career summation" for Tarantino.

In The Telegraph, critic Robbie Collin praised the film's fairy tale-like evocation of 1969, writing, "Tarantino luxuriates in bringing this prelapsarian heyday roaring back to life, and the effect is pure movie-world intoxication, laced with in-jokes and nibble-ably sweet period detail." Collin also does not spoil the film's ending, but hints that the violent finale is the "single most shocking sequence in Tarantino's filmography." Though the film revels in a "toxicity" at the end, he adds, "the transgressive thrill is undeniable, and the artistry mesmerisingly assured."

Slash Film's Jason Gorber acknowledges that it's "more challenging than usual" to talk about the film in detail without spoiling its power, yet he praises the pairing of DiCaprio and Pitt as "two of the finest actors in this or any other generation." He goes on to say, "Given this meaty dialogue,  terrific character beats and the swagger of the setting, they’re at the tops of the game." Gorber also highlights the rest of the cast, particularly Robbie's "visually perfect" interpretation of Sharon Tate and Fanning's "particularly haunting" take on "Squeaky" Fromme. The critic emphasizes the effective design, cinematography and editing that contributed to the "grime and beauty" that Hollywood represents.

For Collider, Gregory Ellwood notes that Tarantino has "never made a film that ends up as sweet and nostalgic as his latest," highlighting the fact that the director never fails to introduce an emotional thrust in his films. The critic talks about how much fun there is to be had in the film, mentioning a scene in particular. "Cliff has a showdown with Bruce Lee on the set of The Green Hornet and his faithful dog deserves star billing." He goes on to emphasize the punch of the ensemble cast, "Familiar faces such as Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Mark Madsen, Lena Dunham and Damien Lewis stand out in small roles."

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood releases into theaters July 26.