“Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood” follows the story of television actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) during the Golden Age of Hollywood in 1969. Together, the two strive to find work and fame in an industry that’s ready to discard and forget them. Meanwhile, up-and-coming star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband, European director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), have also taken up residence next door to Rick Dalton’s home. In Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, this love letter to the 60s will take viewers to a retro period in an ever-changing industry, but more than that, it’ll show that the City of Angels isn’t always a heavenly place. The film features an all-star cast: Al Pacino, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Luke Perry, and Damian Lewis.
Pull up a chair dear reader, because there’s a lot to cover in this review, and I feel privileged to discuss a Tarantino film. For those that may not know who I’m talking about, Quentin Tarantino is a writer/director of numerous acclaimed films such as “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Inglorious Bastards,” to name a few. His movies are notorious for their cinematic focus, lengthy storytelling, enriching dialogue, and most notably, intense violence.
His latest film, “Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood,” is a period piece film about an actor and his stunt double trying to make it in Hollywood. I’m going to be upfront about the plot. If I were to describe it on paper, you’d probably be disinterested, because this isn’t a plot-driven story with a human antagonist. It’s more character-driven with the audience following Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth as they get into shenanigans in 1969 Los Angeles, right up to the final climax which takes place during the infamous Manson Family home invasion. Now, don’t take this as a bad thing, far from it. What makes this film a fun and an interesting must-see is the presentation, acting, and setting.
Presentation-wise, this film takes “authentic period piece” to the next level. I could mention the sets, locations, costumes, soundtrack, and everything else that makes this feel like a retro period in the 60s, but as if that wasn’t enough, some scenes were actually shot using vintage cameras. Being an actor in the 60s, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character obviously has a few films to his name, and all of them are shown in that classic James Bond-esque style. The filmmakers actually went through the effort of making some scenes look like they were shot from that period, and never has archaic cinema looked so beautiful.
Now, onto the acting. This is going to be difficult because everyone practically disappears into their roles. A part of me wants to shout praise for Leonardo and his scenes, but that would feel unfair. I mean, it’s Leonardo playing an actor, of course he would get more scenes to branch out and emote. However, Brad Pitt almost steals the show. While he plays the role of a laid back stuntman just trying to enjoy himself and be there for his best friend Rick Dalton, he’s also a tough dude who can hold his own. The film’s worth seeing alone just to see Brad Pitt beat up Manson’s followers. Yes, that happens, and it’s amazing.
Finally, I have to address the setting. I’ve already talked about the location and period, but I feel there’s more about the setting that needs to be explored in order to understand the true importance of the movie. I mentioned before that the film is driven by characters with no human antagonist. Well, not every adversary has to be human. The true antagonist of “Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood” is time.
Try and envision it for a moment. The story takes place during a period many consider to be the Golden Age of Hollywood. A time that saw Los Angeles awash with fresh ideas and new talent, but also of rebellion and new-age believers. However, the times are changing, and that change affects the characters of the story, especially during the climax and conclusion. Tarantino picked this time and location because it was the period where Hollywood changed from an image of fairytales and happily ever afters, to a more grim and tragic view people never thought could exist in what was considered a magical place. And while the infamous Manson Family can still be considered the villains of this tale, the movie also feels like Tarantino is flipping the Manson Family the bird given the “alterations” he’s made to the story. This wouldn’t be the first time the acclaimed director has twisted history in his films. After all, “Inglorious Bastards,” ended with a soldier named “The Bear Jew” gunning down Adolf Hitler with a machine gun. Was it historically accurate? Absolutely not. Was it fun and satisfying to watch? Absolutely!
“Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood” is rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references. If you’re a fan of Tarantino’s work, then you’re going to love this film. However, even if you’re not, I’d still recommend it as a must-see. I should warn readers that this is a lengthy film; one that clocks in at 2 hours and 41 minutes. However, I should also mention that this is unfortunately the last appearance for Luke Perry, who sadly passed away this year on March 4th. Still, not a bad film to go out on as the final score for “Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood” is an 8.5 out of 10!
Marco Island resident and avid moviegoer, Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a bachelor’s degree in science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. In his four years at Lynn, Matthew managed to achieve Magna Cum Laude status, earn three publications in the Lynn University magazine, make a short documentary featured in the university’s Film Festival, and created a radio PSA that was later broadcasted overseas.