Every few years, Quentin Tarantino descends from the Hollywood Olympus to remind the earthlings that he remains the cinematic god of thunder. His latest opus, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," throbs with a breathtaking level of assured ingenuity as it spins its fanciful tale set half a century ago.
For the better part of three hours, you laugh, wince and gawk your way through a fanciful tale spun by a master. Awe-inspiring cinematography, gritty, stylized performances and dialogue that patters on a rough-hewn poetic freeverse would be shocking to behold, if Tarantino hadn't demonstrated a similar level of brilliance in each and every one of his previous films.
Because of his relentless dedication to quality, the release of a Tarantino film is a high holiday for all those who worship the cinematic art form. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" blesses the devotees with masterful grace.
The less you know of the plot going in, the more richly you'll be able to enjoy the movie's surprises. In support of preserving the chastity of those yet to see the film, all you'll get from me in terms of a plot summary is that the story centers around the friendship of fading action star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his stuntman and gofer Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).
As magnetic and entrancing as the lead performances are, the true stars are often the look and sound of the film's fabric. Tarantino synthesizes the Technicolor glow of TV and movies of the era. And as is his trademark, he curates an enchanting score and bountiful soundtrack filled with period songs that serve as ironic counterpoints and satisfying complements to the action on display.
Tarantino indulges his revisionist history dreams in a similar way as he did in a major way in "Inglourious Basterds" and to a lesser degree in "The Hateful Eight" and "Django Unchained."
The director, who grew up in the era, pays simultaneous tribute to the way things actually were, the inaccurate and glorified way the public consciousness remembers them, and the way things ought to have been.
Iconic roles are nothing new for DiCaprio or Pitt, but neither has ever approached the sort of rich and layered chemistry with a male lead that they conjure together here. Butch and Sundance and Riggs and Murtaugh would be envious.
Several other stars carve out intense and memorable roles with minimal screentime. Al Pacino, Margot Robbie, Michael Madsen and the late Luke Perry are particularly impressive, while scores of other big-name actors are also present, content to fill out roles that are little more than extras. Their sacrifice of ego in exchange for becoming part of a cinematic landmark was a more than fair trade.
A film that begs repeat viewing, psychological analysis, scene breakdowns and discussion, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" supersedes any awards it might receive or watercooler buzz it generates opening weekend. This is a film to absorb, interact with and forever treasure.
But no matter how many times you end up watching it, the movie will never hold as much breathless magic as it does for you as it did that seminal first viewing, once upon a time.
RATING: 4 stars out of 4.