Arguably the most hyped film of the year sees acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino return to his native Hollywood for his ninth (and penultimate) outing. Set in 1969 where hippies reigned and Hollywood stars are quickly on the wain, this film was always going to be the most personal for Tarantino as this film provides the backdrop of his own childhood. It’s a film that provides plenty of Tarantino techniques as well as showing his growth as a filmmaker and storyteller.
It seems only natural that a film set in Hollywood should discuss the cast first. A star studded ensemble headed by Oscar winner, Leonardo DiCaprio in his second collaboration with Tarantino as leading man Rick Dalton who is in desperate need for a decent role to revitalise his waning career. Dalton seems to wallow in self-pity as he is offered role after role on television but isn’t satisfied with the characters. Dalton is the polar opposite of DiCaprio, who is at a point in his life where he is playing some of the most interesting and challenging characters in film today. Ironically, the best character Dalton plays is himself, with a complex self-hatred which contrasts with his desire to see his face everywhere he goes (his house is cluttered with movie posters and his car parking space has a giant painting of his face). Dalton is surrounded by the expectations of the man he once was that he cannot live up to the standards of the actor he could be now. One of the best scenes in the film sees Rick have a drunken breakdown in his trailer when he lightly messes up a scene. Promising never to drink again as he swigs from his whiskey flask, it’s abundantly clear that Dalton’s worst enemy is himself. Partner this with Brad Pitt’s cool and collected Cliff Booth, Dalton’s long-term stunt double who lives in a crammed trailer with his dog behind a drive-through cinema, Cliff dreams of stability after allegedly killing his wife but his rough nature gets in the way. Featuring a controversial scene in which he beats the shit out of Bruce Lee, Booth appears introverted and vulnerable but has a violent streak in a bid to survive.
One of the major talking points in the run up to the film was the handling of Hollywood actress, Sharon Tate, who was one of the real life victims of the Manson Murders. Portrayed by Margot Robbie, we see Sharon in the early stages of her career. From the get go, this was a perfect casting choice. Robbie has shown her strengths and growth as an actress from her breakout role in The Wolf of Wall Street to her Oscar-nominated turn in I, Tonya where she portrayed infamous ice-skater, Tonya Harding. Tate is a more relaxed departure and has a naivety as she navigates her career and enters public life alongside husband, Roman Polanksi who at this point had achieve international acclaim for Rosemary’s Baby. Renowned for her beauty and kind-nature, Tate was in the midst of releasing new film The Wrecking Crew in 1969. In a scene that is both heartwarming and breaking at the same time, we see Tate sneak into a cinema to watch her film among the general public. Her reactions as the audience laugh and cheer her character on allow us to see the woman behind the eventual tragedy, an opportunity for her to be known for something more than a murder victim. Of course it wouldn’t be a Tarantino film if we didn’t see someone’s feet which confused audiences alike. I think it was Tarantino’s way of paying tribute to her while also breaking the blur between reality and fiction. An odd tribute but a tribute all the same.
The big turning point in the film comes when Cliff visits Spahn Ranch, home of Charles Manson’s “family” after an encounter with a potentially underage member (Margaret Qualley). The tone mirrors that of a horror film as Cliff walks the long path to the head house to check on its owner, George Spahn (Bruce Dern). I think that this will go down as one of Tarantino’s best scenes as the direction is impeccable. By this point we’ve seen Cliff’s ability to fight so we know that he is capable of defending himself; however, Tarantino uses the hindsight and context of the situation to drive fear in the audience as crowds of young, waif-like hippies crowd around him in droves. It’s a scene that combines the suspense of The Hateful Eight, the Western qualities of Django Unchained and the hazy Californian setting of Pulp Fiction that brings something quintessentially Tarantino while also showing us something new.
Now for my favourite part of any film – the script! I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tarantino among the nominees for Best Original Screenplay come awards season. He may even walk away with his third gong at the Academy Awards. The dialogue seems sharper and more realistically placed than his previous offerings. Tarantino does a great job of recreating his childhood through detailed settings and timely cultural references. Whereas Pulp Fiction has plenty of iconic quotes and relies on the words on the page, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is quite the opposite and much like its subject, it closes in on the actors and is very physically demanding. The film is largely reserved in its violence for the most part, culminating in a massive showdown at the end which justifies the 18 certificate it received. The film is profoundly analytical and draws more similarities to Boogie Nights than Pulp Fiction in my eyes due to the exposure of the grit beneath the glamour of stardom. Tarantino also takes away his use of “chapters”, instead splitting the films into specific days in the run up to the day of the Manson murders. The direction is brilliant in that it showcases a global talent from the confines of his house for the most part. The importance of the home is reiterated throughout the film as Sharon and Roman have recently moved in to the house next door to Rick who mainly stays in (mostly in part to the drinking problem he has as well as his will to ostracise himself). This is ultimately a film about Tarantino’s home literally and figuratively through his childhood but also cinema as a safe place.
The scope of this film is so vast that it is simply impossible to discuss every aspect in one simple review but it’s definitely a film that requires more than one watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tarantino even walked away with his long awaited Best Director Oscar which would thoroughly be deserved. This is the film that he was born to make and only builds up even more hype for his alleged final film. I have a feeling that this will be the film to beat.
Have you seen Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood yet? What did you think?
Let me know in the comments below!