Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s valentine to old Hollywood. But it’s more than that. It’s a fairy tale. And the two heroes of this fairy tale are as unlikely a duo as Shrek and Donkey. The film brought back so many memories for me. The film takes place in 1969 and I was only three years old, as a matter of fact, the first third of the film takes place on my birthday; February 8, 1969. I remember a lot from that time, mostly the music, the TV shows, the radio stations, the commercials and also the ‘feel’. I remember the ‘feeling’ of that time and this film made me feel that again.
There isn’t much of a plot, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) a has been actor and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) his dedicated stunt man and friend try to find work and seem to be overwhelmed by the new scene, the new type of acting and filmmaking and the new free living lifestyle of Southern California. Dalton lives in Benedict Canyon and his neighbors are Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, the embodiment of New Hollywood. Tarantino is a wonderful writer and he weaves together the lives of these three people over the course of two days which beautifully sets up the finale. “You may think you know what’s going on but you don’t” which is a line from Chinatown directed by Polanski a few years later and it fits on this film as well.
There are too many terrific cameos to mention but Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning and Margaret Qualley’s (The Leftovers, Fosse/Verdon) performances are stand out. Margot Robbie imbues Sharon Tate with life and joy and effervescence. She does a lot with little screen time and it’s just right. DiCaprio and Pitt are perfectly casts and give pitch perfect performances.
Then, there is the Charlie Manson thing. He’s in it as are a big group of his followers living at the Spahn Movie Ranch. This is a great scene in the film. Many of the women in this scene are played by the children of famous actors such as Kevin Smith (Harley Quinn Smith) Andre McDowell (Margaret Qualley)and Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman (Maya Hawke). It definitely provides the tension in the film and its adrenaline rush of a finale. But don’t be scared off. Trust me.
Kurt Russell is in it and narrates. I love Kurt. Damien Lewis plays Steve McQueen in a quick scene and it works. The scene at the Playboy Mansion is magic! The scene between Pitt’s Cliff Booth and Bruce Lee is awesome. It goes on and on. And then there’s the wonderful scene between DiCaprio’s deflated and vulnerable Rick Dalton and an 8 year old method actor played by Julia Butters that will touch you do much you’ll forget you’re watching a Quentin Tarantino film.
The ending is both expected and unexpected and very Tarantino. You’ll know what I mean. Just keep in mind, this isn’t a documentary. It really made me think about how one small thing can affect the rest of your life and the life of others. If X doesn’t happen then one’s life would be completely different. It’s a lot to think about and I thought about it a lot after the end of this film.
My first thoughts are that this isn’t his best film, but it certainly is one that I want you see again. Every frame is filled with something wonderful. When Cliff is fixing dinner for himself and his well trained dog he’s watching Mannix on the TV. My dad loved Mannix. I sat with him and watched it every week. There was a commercial shown at one point that had a young Susan Dey. Al Pacino’s old school agent mentions Robert Conrad and his ‘tight pants’ and I immediately knew he was referring to Wild Wild West, another one of my childhood favorites. This kind of attention to detail is amazing. It comes from love! So it may not be the best game of his 9 films but it’s his most sentimental.