Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino's ninth, and possibly penultimate, feature film has proven to be as controversial as his past eight. The final act, treatment of Bruce Lee and use of Margot Robbie are only some of the reasons why the Pulp Fiction director's latest movie has come in for criticism.
But while some moviegoers have taken umbrage with how Tarantino approached the build-up to the tragic 1969 murder of Sharon Tate, her unborn child and four of her friends, there is one aspect of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that has drawn universal praise: its performances.
Why Pitt is the early front-runner to win the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award
After the film's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival at the end of May, critics detailed how superb the individual performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt were.
It wasn't only the two leading men that caught the eye, though. All of the ensemble were lauded. Early reviews declared that Robbie dazzled as Tate whenever she was on screen and stated that Margaret Qualley was so revelatory as Manson Family member Pussycat that she was now the best young actress in Hollywood, while insisting that Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern and Al Pacino revelled in the words Tarantino had written for them.
But in the weeks since Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's US release on Friday, July 26, Pitt's portrayal has earned the most praise. So much so that, even though the ceremony is about six months away, Pitt is the early front-runner to win the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.
It's not a surprise that Pitt's performance has drawn such acclaim. First of all, it is incredible. While DiCaprio's Rick Dalton is a shallow, depressed and alcoholic actor struggling to come to terms with his failing movie career, Pitt's Cliff Booth is his strong, wise and grounded stunt double/best friend that you simply can't help but be charmed by. When Dalton breaks down, Booth is there to offer sage advice and jokes, each of which Pitt delivers with aplomb, while his surprising use of parkour and the way in which he fixes an antenna without his shirt have proven to be two of the most talked-about moments of the movie. And that's while avoiding spoilers.
Even watching Pitt open a can of dog food is endlessly riveting
But DiCaprio actually gives a more nuanced and complex portrayal than Pitt. Not only does DiCaprio subtly give Dalton a stutter that suggests why he is struggling, but there are several emotional scenes where he gets to cry, erupt and then try to contend with his problems. Meanwhile, Booth is contently trying to live his life in late 1960s Hollywood. The problem is, he keeps serendipitously running into Pussycat, whom he is immediately intrigued by.
While DiCaprio might have more scenes in which to show off his acting chops, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the ultimate proof that watching Pitt silently and pensively command the screen is one of the most thrilling delights cinema has to offer. The film is at its best when Pitt is front and centre. So much so that he makes watching him open a can of dog food, slowly walking slowly to a house, and driving around sun-drenched Los Angeles endlessly riveting through his sheer magnetism.
'Fight Club' vs 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood': It's a tie
Despite the fact Pitt has now been an A-lister for the past three decades, dating back to his breakout role in 1991's Thelma & Louise, he is so astounding in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that Booth rivals Fight Club's Tyler Durden as his most eye-catching role yet. His acting is even more impressive than in Inglorious Basterds or Seven, in which he is outperformed by Christoph Waltz and Morgan Freeman, respectively.
In A River Runs Through It, Interview with the Vampire and Legends of the Fall Pitt is still honing his craft, while other movies he's starred in such as Snatch, True Romance and Ocean's Eleven are too lighthearted, Troy, World War Z and Mr & Mrs Smith too dumb and mainstream, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button too boring. Only his work in Moneyball and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford come close to matching his latest performance, but they failed to capture the attention of the movie world like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has.
There are extenuating circumstances that explain why Pitt's turn is so impactful, though. The past few years have been rather rough for the actor. In 2016, Allied, his most recent attempt to lead a mainstream studio film, under-performed critically and financially, while only a year later War Machine was sold to Netflix, where it was released to a muted response. During the same period he divorced from Angelina Jolie, and rumours swirled about his post-divorce private life. Booth also has to contend with rumours about his own private life in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and the manner in which both Tarantino and Pitt allow the lines between character and actor to blur ever so slightly only helps to bring you closer in as a viewer.
Hollywood loves a comeback story
That Pitt was on a downward spiral, while DiCaprio's stock had never been higher due to his Oscar win for The Revenant, and Robbie's career was going from strength to strength, too, meant that cineastes would always want to highlight Pitt's wondrous work first. Never forget, Hollywood loves a comeback story, especially when the actor in question has the chance to complete his comeback by winning an Oscar at the fourth time of asking.
But what's most exciting about Pitt's return to form is that in a few short weeks audiences will be able to see him on the silver screen again. That's because he is leading Ad Astra, an audacious sci-fi film that revolves around Pitt's astronaut travelling deep into space to search for his father. Ad Astra will have its premiere this month at the Venice Film Festival, and if Pitt's performance is anywhere near as captivating as it is in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood then he could even be a Best Actor contender, too.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is out in cinemas across the UAE on Thursday