“ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD” is the 9th film from Quentin Tarantino coming to theaters this weekend, featuring a stellar cast headlined by Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Brad Pitt. This story in set in 1969 Hollywood and follows a once highly regarded actor named Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth. They are seeing their grip on the industry fade away as Hollywood’s Golden Era winds down to its final years, which has started to cause a shift in the movie business that Dalton is having trouble coming to terms with.
Now I’ll be the first to tell you that I wouldn’t consider myself a huge Tarantino fan. I respect his work, and his creative ambition. I also love the passion he shows for film-making, and I appreciate the respectful homages to what inspires him that he shows through his films. I wouldn’t go as far as to say he is overrated by any means, but he doesn’t blow me away like he seems to do with the masses. Some of his movies are a miss for me, but a majority I do have a good time watching. So, I was naturally curious to see what Tarantino could do with a story set inside the world and culture he loves, during the era he seems to love most.
And I would have to say he knocks it out of the park with this movie because I thoroughly enjoyed the ride it took me on. From start-to-finish the viewer is pulled into not only the settings of 1969 Los Angeles, but Hollywood as well. Exploring how the industry operated back then. The production design is pristine with detail from the make-up and wardrobe design, to the practical sets. Tarantino uses the backdrops so well to infuse color and time-period themes into the story by using colorful marquees, vibrant billboards, old movie theaters, and stage sets for the films being shot within this film. All of which I think works together perfectly with a classic Tarantino score to create a rich world for this story.
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I loved how Tarantino structured this script. He keeps all the moving pieces balanced among each other to weave a single intriguing narrative. The backdrop of 60’s Hollywood is set. Then Rick Dalton played by DiCaprio and his stunt double Cliff Booth played by Pitt are introduced. Dalton can see his glory days are behind him. He feels his star is beginning to fade and it’s worrisome. The Golden Era of Hollywood was much like as assembly line by studios who had their talent, and crew under tight contracts meaning guaranteed work a lot of times. With this changing of the guard Dalton, who does possess the acting skills, feels worried about the future of his career as he recognized that complacency has set in.
This is where stuntman Cliff Booth comes in who admittedly seems sort of nonchalant about the shift in the industry. He is constantly upbeat, he’s jovial. Seemingly like he doesn’t grasp the ramifications of what is happening around them. Yet he clearly does because the positive reinforcement that Cliff routinely gives Rick Dalton, is really the confidence that Dalton is missing in himself. Pitt’s character clearly knows this without making note of it which makes their relationship appealing to watch. On top of this is the plot-line of Sharon Tate played by Margot Robbie. Who routinely injects the film with energy as she goes to parties, listens to music, watches her own movies, to capture what the wide-eyed purity of Hollywood and how it feels to be an actor.
I enjoyed this contrasting theme when it was mixed with the struggles of Dalton and Booth. It captured the duality of the Hollywood experience, with all the struggles and successes people can experience. Tarantino blends all these subplots together so seamlessly, and he still is able to work in the underlying Charles Manson dynamic. This was the area of the film that worried me prior to watching in terms of how it would be handled. But without going into spoilers, I loved what he did with this aspect of the story and how he was able to use it to subtly cast this looming dread over the entire film. It created curiosity and intrigue as to what direction Tarantino would take it because you can never be sure which way he will go, which naturally kept my interest high throughout.
As for the cast, as you would expect everyone was awesome. DiCaprio was world-class and simple amazing in this multi-role performance. It wasn’t as flashy as some of his past performances. But what he pulled off in this movie was nothing short of incredible. His character is coming to grips with a change in his career, this comes with many outbursts and DiCaprio hit his emotional ques with both sincere and comical results. He captured each persona the story required from him with ease. And watching him flow between a range of emotional responses within single scenes, shows why he is one of the best in the business.
Brad Pitt was fantastic as well. Aside from his pinpoint timing and authentic chemistry with DiCaprio to sell their dynamic. He embodies the role of stuntman realistically and he commences to deliver a character that you can’t help but like despite having a clouded past. He’s rough around the edges, and highly capable in his field. He’s also confident, but not arrogant, and Pitt conveys all of this with the skill you would expect from him. He also gives this character a genuine charm and a sense-of-humor that felt extremely natural. The overall comedic beats of this film are nicely timed, primarily because DiCaprio and Pitt landed Tarantino’s snarky humor flawlessly.
Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate was excellent. She captured that charismatic innocence of the Hollywood star still on the rise. The energy would pick up every time she was onscreen simply from her warmhearted personality, the visual passion for she had for life, for making movies, and Robbie brought this role all it needed. In addition to the lead trio was a collection of familiar faces that all come in and make the most of their screen time. Tarantino often uses the same performers in his movies and in this one it was fun to routinely see people pop up in various characters. Will each of them leaving their small imprint on the story. I don’t want to get too close to spoiler territory so I will leave it at that. This was a beautifully crafted film that doesn’t just tell a story, it creates an atmosphere and a moody vibe. Tarantino’s passion for this era in Hollywood shined bright and while it does run a little long, the progression does build the characters, so it wasn’t too much of a hindrance.