Review - Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
“It’s official old buddy, I’m a has-been.”
Is a sentence that Quentin Tarantino will not be saying about his career any time soon. Tarantino’s ninth outing as a writer/director once again proved why he is recognised and adored by audiences and peers alike.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood follows Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman, Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt) as they deal with a period in Hollywood where the landscape is changing within the movie industry, leaving the pair feeling lost, redundant and unsure where their lives will lead them next.
The film succeeds in recreating 1969 L.A down to the last detail, from the characters and the way they behave and speak, to the costumes. Even going so far as to be shot on film, which allows the piece to feel like it could fit right amongst the films of the time. It also creates a piece of cinema that can be considered Pulp Fiction for a new generation, making a great movie for multiple viewings.
The duo of DiCaprio and Pitt sit comfortably amongst Tarantino’s most memorable on-screen pairs, from Travolta and Jackson in Pulp Fiction to Foxx and Waltz in Django.
It opens with a TV interview with the leading pair, where Rick Dalton is asked the job of a stuntman. This is an excellent start to the story as it immediately establishes the duo’s relationship. With Dalton (DiCaprio) being front and centre in the media’s eye as an actor, and Cliff (Pitt) happy being more of a background figure and reserved, speaking straight with anyone if he feels so inclined.
After this introduction the pair are seen at a bar where Dalton is about to meet with Marvin Schwarz (played by Al Pacino), he tells Dalton that if he continues to play “The Heavy” on Television the audience will begin to psychologically care less about him as an actor, if he keeps losing to “The Good Guy”. This is where we as an audience are informed of Dalton’s anxieties and insecurities as actor, which DiCaprio shows with accuracy and honesty. Allowing audiences, a glimpse into the psyche of an actor after their supposed “Fifteen Minutes”. Constantly looking for work to keep themselves relevant, which is even more relevant today with the rise of social media.
Luckily for Dalton, his long-time friend Cliff stands by him throughout his moments of uncertainty. Soon here after it is established the blatant parallels between the pair, with Rick living in a lavished home on a private estate next door to the Polanski’s, Roman & Sharon (played by Rafal Zawierucha & Margot Robbie). Whereas Cliff lives alone in a small trailer with his Pitbull, behind the back of a drive-in movie theatre.
However, unlike his friend, Cliff faces’ his problems and uncertainty with a cool nonchalance, which Pitt delivers with ease like that of his character in Inglorious Basterds, working as Dalton’s handy man for most of the film.
From here on the audience is treated to a brotherly journey of finding where they fit in, in the final days of Hollywood’s golden age. This is where I would say that the advertisement of this film being “Tarantino’s Manson Family movie” to be completely wrong. The film happens to take place around the time of the families killings but does not play a big enough role for this to be the overall subject of the movie.
The tone of the piece is largely light-hearted with moments based in comedy. For example, during a flashback to how Cliff lost his gig as a stuntman by getting into an altercation with Bruce Lee, we see particularly how Cliff as a character will only speak out when he is certain he disagrees. In this instance it is Lee’s incessant talking of how he is a dangerous man and how he considers “real fighting” to be about killer instinct.
The comedy is also presented in the forms of cutaways to Rick Dalton’s over the top film projects such as him laughing manically as he uses a flamethrower to set fire to a bunch of Nazi officers.
Although there are moments of comedy which play a large part of the tone there are also shifts into some real high tension. This doesn’t feel out of place as there is an over arching sense of impending doom to be found within the film.
For this reason Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate benefits from less dialogue than any of the other characters; as every time she is presented on screen, the scenes are flooded with bright light, and she herself is dressed in vivid colours. This creates an idea of a young women who is free, happy and optimistic looking forward to her future. This is where the first sense of impending doom is created, assuming the audience is aware of Tate’s fate, they are helpless to escape her inevitable death at the hands of the Mason family.
The sense of tension can also be seen around our male duo. With Dalton being extra critical of his own performance on set, being concerned with being perceived as not being able to hang in this new world. This is seen perfectly when he is sat with co-star Trudy (played by Julia Butters) and she at the age of eight shows how serious she takes her acting compared to Dalton who can be seen drinking on set. Finally, Cliff’s encounter with the Manson Family at their ranch. The entire time there tension is at its highest, with Cliff being watched by a majority of the family. Every second is drawn out, making the audience anticipate the moment where it all goes south and the family descend on Cliff like a pack of wolves.
All this contrasts in the costume design with all three characters Dalton, Cliff and Tate being dressed in the colour yellow, which immediately can be seen not in just showing the time of year but to show the optimism each character finds at different points. With Cliff traveling to Italy with Dalton, Dalton being told his performance is “the best” Trudy has seen and finally Tate seeing people enjoying her movie role while at the theatre.
For those who are a fan of Tarantino’s previous work, they are in for a treat with this film. With an ending laced with over the top violence, presenting a completely fictional “what if?” scenario, that brings audiences back to realising they aren’t simply watching a fictional retelling of The Manson Family murders. With something that gives us a happy ending and fits the title of “Once Upon A Time”.
An entertaining, unique and pleasant piece of cinema that goes to show not every film needs to be an end of the world event.