After some anxiety about finishing on time, Quentin Tarantino delivered to Cannes a spanking wet 35mm print of his gorgeous $95-million “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” unveiled Tuesday at its Cannes world premiere. “You’re the first audience to see it,” Tarantino told the crowd after the requisite six-minute ovation. “See you on the Croisette!”
The movie landed a strong initial response at Cannes that should propel it into Sony July 26 release around the world. Whether its twists and turns will stay under wraps, as Tarantino and Cannes director Thierry Fremaux have asked, remains to be seen. However, a number of awards season possibilities are already clear from the first screening.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” lovingly recreates a showbiz period that is long past, of cowboys, manly men and crazy hippies. It celebrates the power of movie stars, as Tarantino staples Leonardo DiCaprio (“Django Unchained”) and Brad Pitt (“Inglourious Basterds”) are funny, poignant and often brilliant as past-his-prime western star Rick Dalton (trying to recover his mojo), and his loyal driver and stuntman Cliff Booth (who looks fab without his shirt and received a cheer from the audience when he took it off), respectively, as is Margot Robbie as sweet rising actress Sharon Tate, who is married to director Roman Polanski.
We meet some of Charles Manson’s creepy gang of marginals — and follow Tate, who lives next door to Dalton, as she buys her husband a copy of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” a movie he will eventually make. Tarantino’s dark comedy is an elegy for another time, when movies were celluloid must-sees like this one, men were men, Cadillacs were huge, the El Coyote was still across the street from Tarantino’s New Beverly Theatre, and the Playboy Mansion was cool.
This movie, like show-business Oscar-winners “All About Eve,” “The Artist” and “Birdman,” will play well inside Hollywood. The acting branch will respond enthusiastically to the movie’s trio of superb performances. (DiCaprio and Pitt are both leads, while Robbie is a Supporting player.) As always for a Tarantino film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” boasts top-notch production design (Barbara Ling), 35 mm cinematography (Robert Richardson), costume design (Arianne Phillips) and editing (Fred Raskin), not to mention Tarantino’s Original Screenplay, which expertly threads several stories and characters into a satisfying meshed finale.