Written by J.T. Johnson
SEE IT! THEN, SEE IT AGAIN!
I heard before watching “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” that the film was writer and director Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to 1960s Hollywood. That is just about the perfect description for his ninth film. It is a slow build hangout film that leads to an inevitable ending that one would come to expect from Tarantino.
The movie looks at the past with wide-eyed nostalgia. Make no mistake about it, the title says it all. Just by using “Once Upon a Time…” in his title, Tarantino is telling us that this is a fairytale version of old Hollywood. This is the old school film business through his eyes and it has all of the dialogue, complex characters and violence that you would come to expect from the acclaimed filmmaker.
The movie primarily follows two people. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a middle-aged actor that’s on his way out the door. He once starred in a hit television show but now he guest stars as villains in shows headlined by newer, more relevant talent. His best friend is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), an out of work stuntman that helps out Rick by driving him around and doing other tasks for him… Oh, and he may or may not have killed his wife.
Living next door to Rick is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), a rising star in Hollywood that is also married to Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha). In the background, there is a sinister looking group of hippies led by someone they name Charlie. All of these characters are on a collision course with destiny. But before that, we get to do the one thing that we love to do in a Tarantino film and that’s hang out with the movie’s characters.
DiCaprio and Pitt are fantastic as Rick and Cliff, especially DiCaprio. In many ways, DiCaprio has the biggest challenge here. He has to successfully portray the self-doubting, slightly stuttering Rick but he also has to bring it when filming the shows within the movie and showing us why Rick used to be a big deal. Thankfully, DiCaprio is more than up to the task in a performance that should gain him all the awards.
His chemistry with Pitt as Cliff is also extremely real and you feel that these two people are not only best friends, but brothers. Rick would never betray his best friend and Cliff is forever loyal and always trying to build Rick’s confidence back up when Rick has none for himself. Finally, there’s Robbie as Sharon and she makes you feel for this rising star and one of the best scenes is simply watching her in the theater enjoying the film she happens to appear in.
On the writing and directing side of things, Tarantino is in top form here. There are scenes where he decides to actually film the shows within the movie and for a minute, you forget that this isn’t the real story that you’re following. For example, there is a scene where Rick is playing the heavy in “Lancer” an old Western TV show. Everyone is doing such a good job that you forget that you’re watching a show being filmed until Rick forgets one of his lines and you hear the crew offscreen trying to help him.
Surprisingly, until a certain point in the movie, Tarantino tones down the violence in this film. Up until the film’s final moments, there’s not really that much violence and Tarantino plays against what you would expect from him. This actually works in the film’s favor as we get to just hang with these characters instead and enjoy Tarantino’s signature natural sounding yet carefully constructed dialogue.
Ultimately, I think this is the best examination of old school Hollywood from one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. Yes, there will be segments in this film that people will debate for some time. All I can say at this moment is that I had an absolute blast and feel that this will go down as one of Tarantino’s best films.