At the core of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is friendship. The film also captures an actor’s greatest fear. The fear of losing relevance, especially in an industry such as Hollywood. But for Tarantino, it must mean much more. A love letter to Hollywood that pays tributes to its Golden Age.
Tarantino has had an illustrious career as a filmmaker and has earned a reputation for aestheticization of violence. He has less than films under his belt. Yet, most of his work have been masterpieces.
Tarantino made his foray into directing in 1992 with “Reservoir Dogs.” Two years later, he released the crime film, “Pulp Fiction” (1994). He followed that with “Jackie Brown” in 1997. Thereafter, he released “Kill Bill” volume 1 in 2003 and volume 2 in 2004. But in 2009 and 2012 came “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained.” which joined “Pulp Fiction” as Tarantino’s most acclaimed films yet.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” marks Tarantino’s ninth film. Set in Hollywood in 1969, it tells the story of an enduring friendship between a Hollywood actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Individually, DiCaprio and Pitt are outstanding in their roles. When brought together, they are phenomenal. The duo share a great onscreen chemistry.
Dalton is the former star of a 1950s Western television series, Bounty Law. He lives at Cielo Drive in Los Angeles while Booth is content with living in a trailer with his pit bull named Brandy. Dalton is in his prime. A meeting with his agent and Hollywood producer, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) makes him worried about what the future holds. But Booth – who is just as needy of work – assures him that all will be well. Coincidentally, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband, director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha) move into the house next door.
The cast also includes Mike Moh who portrays Bruce Lee and Tate’s martial arts trainer. Julia Butters portrays the child actor Trudi Fraser. Fraser stars alongside Dalton as Maribella on Lancer. Working with an ensemble cast is part of Tarantino’s signature style. To that end, the beauty of his storytelling is that it gave individual cast members moments in the spotlight. And though Tarantino has been condemned for Moh’s portrayal of Bruce Lee, his brief stint was impressive.
As for Pitt’s character Booth, he is cool, calm and collected. His persona is familiar. As a matter of fact, very similar to “Lieutenant Aldo Raine aka The Apache” in “Inglourious Basterds.” Pitt is remarkable in the role, allowing his actions speak louder than his words. On the other hand, DiCaprio’s character is more over-the-top. He is especially brilliant in a scene where Dalton does a self appraisal in his trailer. He is even more compelling as the villain on the set of Lancer. Butters did not do badly as well. Even Brandy got its shot.
Without a doubt, props were key to this film. But Tarantino is no stranger to period dramas so he brings 1960s Hollywood to life. In addition, he pays attention to heart and art. For cinephiles and those who are old enough, this film will be nostalgic. At the same time, in filming, he pays attention to the minutest detail and it is visually appealing. Still, perhaps what should be most celebrated is the effort that went into recreating the series which featured in the film. “Bounty Law” is a fictitious series that was made specially for the film. Episodes of “The F.B.I” were also created, simply to enrich the Dalton character. It is no mean feat.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” starts slower than most Quentin Tarantino films but ends delightfully in classic Tarantino-style with a gorefest. However, the pacing and Robbie’s character are low points. Tate was largely inconsequential to the story, yet she was given a lot of screen time which prolonged the film.
It goes without saying that Tarantino is a genius. And though “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has its entertaining moments, it pales in comparison to “Django Unchained” and “Inglourious Basterds.” Even with a very strong ending, it turns out one of Tarantino’s weakest work.
Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis