'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood' Movie Review: An ode to the golden era of Hollywood.
Last Modified On: 19 August 2019 | Reviewed By: Saurabh S Nair
The film is written and directed by the maverick filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. This might be the filmmaker's most fun and light-hearted film but ends with Tarantino's trademarks.
Director: Quentin Tarantino | Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Burt Reynolds, Tim Roth, Timothy Olyphant, Michael Madsen, James Marsden, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Emile Hirsch, Damian Lewis, Clifton Collins Jr., Sydney Sweeney, Kurt Russell, Damon Herriman, Lorenza Izzo, Margaret Qualley, Tim Roth.
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Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
This might arguably be Tarantino's fun and light-hearted film with a top-notch performance of Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Their chemistry is the best part of the film. The film is both a love letter to Hollywood’s golden age and also a daring blend of fact and fiction.
Set in the year 1969, the film allows Tarantino to reference that period’s music, fashion, cool cars, movie stars, and headlines. It’s powered by the filmmaker’s dark humor and explosive violence, and yet there’s something distinctly different about this ninth film of his – it’s unmistakably sentimental. Now there’s a word you don’t usually associate with him!
Ironically it’s got two of the biggest movie stars playing has-been Hollywood types. Leonardo DiCaprio is Rick Dalton, a once-popular star best known for television Westerns, now crippled by alcohol and self-doubt. His most loyal, and possibly his only friend is his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who’s also his driver and all-round handyman. The men share a close bond. A voice-over describes Booth as “a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife”. When Dalton gets teary that his career is over, Booth gives him his aviators and a pep talk. “You’re Rick f**ing Dalton,” he reminds him.
Both Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are at the top of their game. They share terrific chemistry, and their bromance forms the heart of the movie. DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a faded TV Western star who still nurses ambitions as a serious actor. Pitt is Cliff Booth, Rick’s longtime stunt double and affable right-hand man, now reduced to a driver since work has dried up. The pair of them spend a lot of time tooling around Hollywood in Rick’s enormous Cadillac. They are relics of the old guard, and the hippies wandering the streets of Hollywood seem to belong to an entirely different era, ushering in the counter-culture.
Rick’s on-set encounter with a precocious eight-year-old method actor (Julia Butters) triggers a crisis of confidence. Up to this point, DiCaprio plays Rick as a bundle of nervous energy under a veneer of actorly charm, which gives way to a devastating mix of bluster and vulnerability.
Cliff, meanwhile, picks up a hitchhiker named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), a skinny, long-legged hippie woman in the tiniest of crochet halter tops. She persuades him to drive her to Spahn Ranch, which he remembers as the site of many film and TV shootings, now transformed into a ghost town colonized by Manson and his devotees. Here the cinematography enters classic horror movie territory, as Cliff enters the dilapidated house, then looks back to see the hippies gathering menacingly under the looming rocks, vacant eyes fixed on him.
Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate is an effortlessly glamorous ray of sunshine, whose loud snoring only makes her more endearing. She makes the most of her limited screen time. In a bravura set-piece, Tate, dressed in immaculate white gogo boots and mini-skirt, passes a cinema showing one of her films (1969’s The Wrecking Crew), and decides on a whim to go inside. We see unfiltered delight and surprise playing over her face, as she gradually takes in the fact that she’s really watching herself on the big screen. In fact, Robbie and the audience are watching clips of the real Tate, adding one more poignant layer of movie magic.
Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), the two most iconic real-life characters, appear only in brief glimpses, but a slew of other famous names make appearances. An oddly-cast Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen pops up to deliver some gratuitous exposition. Rick’s TV episode is directed by Communist sympathizer Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond), who would go on to rebuild Shakespeare’s Globe in London the following year. Back at the ranch, we encounter Bruce Dern as the decrepit owner turned willing hostage George Spahn, and Dakota Fanning as the cold-blooded Squeaky Fromme, Manson’s assassin-in-chief.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood has an undeniable nasty streak. Tarantino has a sickening gift for making the most brutal violence seem enthrallingly cool, and it is on full display here.
The film may not be Tarantino’s best, but it’s a laidback, change-of-pace offering that delivers many unexpected pleasures.