Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019) / The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)
Two of the great masters of cinema of our time face each other in a similar position, with films that are undeniably outstanding, yet aren't as iconic as some of their past works.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019)
Does the 9th film from mastermind Quentin Tarantino live up to its expectations? Yes. Does it earn a place as one of Tarantino’s greatest works? No. These two questions -and its respective answers- serve as an introduction to the highly anticipated Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
A literature teacher once told me that fiction served as a way of catharsis inasmuch as it allows us to rewrite history, finding alternative outcomes to the tragedies that define us. This is what I often find -and love- in Tarantino movies. Plus, his writing is simply flawless, creating some of the best screenplays in modern cinema, and I’m pretty certain few people would argue against this. His latest film is, indeed, brilliant and cathartic. However, reimagining a well-known crime that is imbedded in American pop culture isn’t quite as powerful as Hitler being shot to death by a jew or a former slave in Civil War America going on a vengeful rampage.
This is not to say that the movie is bad. On the contrary, both the writing and the direction are excellent and, of course, you couldn’t expect less. Robert Richardson’s work alongside Tarantino also never disappoints, although we have seen more accomplished collaborations between the two. However, the film is miles away from achieving the mark that movies like Reservoir Dogs or Inglourious Basterds -which I find to be Tarantino’s masterpiece and one of my favorite movies of all time- have left on me. And that’s ultimately why I would say that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn’t one of Tarantino’s finest works.
Regarding the acting performances, with a cast like the one assembled here you pretty much have a sure thing going on. Brad Pitt is amazing as the stoic stuntman Cliff Booth, resulting in one of his best roles ever, one that will likely make him the recipient of the Best Supporting Actor prize, very much deservingly so. Leonardo DiCaprio is also great, mostly because he’s great at everything he does, but Pitt is truly the one who steals the show this time around. Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, and the rest of the cast, however short their appearances may be, put together an outstanding acting ensemble that deserves to be nominated for every award out there.
I must say that I zoned out in several of the scenes. I found the film to be a bit slow from time to time. And this is frequent with Tarantino. The difference is, no matter how slow-paced the story may be, it is often filled with brilliant dialogues, which is undoubtedly a hallmark of his, and I found there was a lack of it in this film. Nonetheless, I do have to praise the final 40 minutes of the film, which are pure perfection, with the story reaching its climax in a full display of Tarantino’s uniquely genius style.
Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. Because of this, I’m prone to love everything he does and I’m happy that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood maintains his status both as a writer and as a director. But also because of this, I can be highly critical if I find that a film doesn’t achieve the mastery of its predecessors. And that’s what I found happened with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. If you compare it with the other nominees for Best Picture this year, it’s clear that it’s one of the best. However, when you see its place within the cinematic career of one of the greatest filmmakers of our times, the result is quite different.
The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)
Jumping from one mastermind to another, we arrive to Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. Scorsese is the Midas of film. Everything he touches is pure gold. So, it’s no surprise that his latest piece is a display of artistry and craftsmanship in every way. The Italian-American director returns to a subject that is very familiar to him, creating a film that seems like an homage to his own trajectory, showing the maturity of an established director that has stayed true to his essence throughout time, all the while reinventing himself and the genres he addresses.
I’ll start by saying something: The film is extremely long. This is no secret. And, even though I feel like I’m insulting a god, I did find it boring from time to time, which has never happened to me before in any of Scorsese’s films. Because of this, I didn’t seem to connect with the story, which doesn’t affect it objectively but does imply that it didn’t have the impact on me that I would have hoped -unlike, for instance, The Departed, which to this day still manages to wow me more and more-. Actually, on the debate on movie theaters v. Netflix, I think I would’ve preferred to watch The Irishman in a cinema, where I probably would’ve been able to give my undivided attention to it.
Leaving that aside, The Irishman is a cinematic achievement in every aspect you can think of. The screenplay, the direction, the editing, and the cinematography are all beyond extraordinary. It is an incredibly well-crafted story that proves Scorsese still has so much left to give and so much more genius in him to exploit. Also, its star-studded cast leaves us with no other option than giving a round of applause. I believe, as a whole, this is one of the most deserving films in this year’s Oscar race, and the fact that it is competing against several underwhelming movies that I will discuss later on -no spoilers yet- shows how all over the place the Academy is these days.
All in all, it is clear to me that The Irishman won’t earn a place amongst my favorite films of all time nor amongst my favorite films of Scorsese. But there is no doubt it is one of the most praiseworthy pieces of cinema 2019 gave us, with Scorsese reclaiming his place as one of the most skilled directors in modern cinema, leaving us eagerly waiting for whatever comes next.