Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood Review
A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Buttler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Nicholas Hammond, Samantha Robinson, Rafal Zawierucha, Lorenza Izzo, Costa Ronin, Damon Herriman, Lena Dunham
Directors: Quentin Tarantino
Writers: Quentin Tarantino
This film is nearly impossible to discuss without spoilers. I have stepped very lightly here. That said, it’s impossible to not mention the historical events this film takes place around.
Although director Quentin Tarantino has previously stated he’ll make ten movies and then he’d retire from film making, Once Upon A Time… In Holywood feels very much like his swan song. A love letter to an era of Hollywood he adores. There’s a time-bomb in the background though, and it’s always on your mind as Tarantino lets you indulge in 1969, but the end of an era is approaching. Hollywood will soon change forever.
The majority of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood takes place over two days in Los Angeles and follows Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a once popular actor who is now working bit-parts on TV to keep his career alive and Cliff Boof, played by Brad Pitt, his stunt-man who has mostly been retired to a chauffeur, helping hand and best-friend. The two of them often throughout the movie make trips to Dalton’s house at Cielo Drive, where Rick is quite impressed that the hottest filmmaker in Hollywood at the time, Roman Polanski has moved in with his wife, Sharon Tate.
Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is happy to take you on a stunning journey of 1969 — thanks to long time Tarantino collaborator, cinematographer Robert Richardson — but it’s not concerned about filling you in on who all the players are. And the players are many. Sharon Tate’s history is the ticking clock throughout the film at the centre, and if you somehow have absolutely zero knowledge on Tate, this entire movie will play very differently for you, I'm sure. Also, although Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are both fictional characters, the majority of characters they bump into are not and again, if you don't know who they are, there are no history lessons here. If this movie was made by Adam McKay it'd probably have cut to a celebrity to explain some of the finer details.
Tate is played by Margot Robbie with a delightful wonder for life and although she is used very sparingly in the film, it's her presence that is the centrepiece of the film. She represents everything good about Hollywood and the Golden Age, a time that many cite ended when she was brutally murdered by followers of Charles Manson's cult in late 1969. It’s a part of history that is impossible to not think about throughout every act as you wonder just what Tarantino has planned. She’s also the other side of the coin here to Rick Dalton. A boozed-up has-been struggling through each day, now living next door to Sharon Tate, someone who is shown to be enjoying life to its fullest and loving every second of it.
DiCaprio and Pitt work wonderfully in tandem together selling two very unique characters that, if you told me were real people, I may have believed you. Both aren’t exactly model examples of what Hollywood stars should look like, especially Pitt’s Cliff Booth who would be considered highly problematic if he existed today.
While Rick spends time on-set, it’s through Booth that we’re introduced to Margaret Qualley as Pussycat and the rest of what, in any other movie, we may have assumed to be harmless hippies. But this isn’t any other movie and the hippies that makeup Charles Manson’s cult presence builds up as the movie progresses; an ever-present nail on the chalkboard in my brain throughout the two-hours forty-one-minute run-time. Every time I’m lulled into enjoying the 60’s recreation I’d remember the event we’re on the doorstep of. This isn’t a horror movie, but I was constantly filled with a feeling of dread none-the-less.
Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is either going to be Quentin Tarantino at his best or his worst for you. Where you fall on that scale will largely depend on how invested you are in 1960’s Hollywood. This is a meandering character piece that at-large, has no obvious plot direction. Love it or hate it, it’s certainly going to be one of the most discussed movies of the year.