Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The fable-like title (an obvious allusion to Leone) and Quentin Tarantino’s track record of toying with history should give you a pretty good hint about what’s in store with his latest film. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in 1969, and broadly speaking the film covers the era of the Manson murders, where a series of brutal crimes shattered a kind of cloistered complacency for the elite of Tinsletown and exposed a dark side to the hippie dream.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an actor who has gone from his heyday as a star to supporting roles as the bad guy. His stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), has a history of his own, and is now relegated to driving Rick from gig to gig. They represent the changing of the guard. Television is taking over from film and their way of being is getting supplanted by the changing atmosphere. We get extended sequences showing Rick’s projects, allowing Tarantino to imagine a past where these movies and shows existed as is.
This kind of creative freedom extends to the rest of the timeline, which is best experienced for oneself. Suffice it to say that the film is part of a loose trilogy of sorts, joining Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained in being unafraid to mess with the historical record. Tarantino seems to achieve the best balance yet here, perhaps driven by a commitment to do justice to the horrors of the Manson story while still able to make things his way. His previous films dealt with Nazis and slavery, big themes hard to codify on an individual basis. With specific events as a touchstone, his diversions are even more resonant this time.
With a stupendous cast including Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, and a luminous Margot Robbie playing Sharon Tate, there’s much to fall for, and the three-hour running time whisks by. The supremely well-drawn pairing of Pitt and DiCaprio really makes the film shine. The source music selection is ace, as can be expected. The 35mm photography is great, and the world of L.A. is presented in all its wild self.
Bombastic and brilliant, Quentin Tarantino’s latest feels like his most mature and assured. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will surely provoke some and surprise others, but a film with this much depth, humor, darkness, and boldness is one to grow with and appreciate over time. This is a film to be reckoned with, easily one of the year’s best.