Quentin Tarantino has been a window into the Hollywood of the past for nearly three decades now. He has illuminated its wonder, its violence, and its allure as a continuing thread that connects his previous eight films. Now, he brings the whole thing front and center with ‘Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’. Where other Tarantino films loosely evoke the films of his childhood by use of costumes, sets, style, and dialogue, this film completely immerses you in it. Through the use of filmmaking magic, Tarantino meticulously recreates Hollywood, circa 1969, and populates it with actors that you will not soon forget. Well, actors, directors, stuntmen, and some hippies that you won’t soon forget.
This film could best be described as a Hollywood hangout movie, and so the characters we hang out is about the most important part of the whole thing. Luckily, Rick Dalton, Cliff Booth, and Sharon Tate are all about as unforgettable a set of characters as you can get. And they are played by some of the last movie stars remaining in the Hollywood of today. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Rick Dalton is delicious fun. As himself, he is an overly emotional, stuttering, and rambling alcoholic, but when in character he gets to become so much more. Throughout the course of the story (if you can call it that), Rick gets to play various flavors of Western heroes and villains. Each one of Rick’s characters are given different dynamics and DiCaprio eats them up with the kind of versatility that only a star of his caliber can do. He makes a multi-faceted performance comes off as laid back and just plain easy.
Brad Pitt provides the same ease to the performance of Cliff Booth. At almost no time do you feel that Cliff is anything less than the baddest mother fucker in the room. Even when he’s facing off against Bruce Lee on the set of ‘The Green Hornet’. Yet, he’s also the poorest of the main characters and the one most financially dependent on the success of another. Which leaves his character in strange predicaments from time to time. One of these might have lead to him murdering his own wife. Some believe he did anyways, but the movie provides no answers. What we do know is that he is about the best friend that the struggling Dalton could possibly ask for and their bromance provides the soul of the movie.
The heart of the movie belongs to Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. The film expects its audience to know who Tate is and what the Manson family viciously did to her in the summer of 1969. So, if you are not familiar with the Manson murders, then you need to do some quick reading in order to truly feel this movie as it’s foreboding dread is intended. Yet, the way Tate is portrayed here is the total opposite of dread. She is the exemplification of what being on the cusp a Hollywood starlet is supposed to be like. She drives through the canyons with the top down and her hair blowing in the wind. She wears the most glamorous clothes. She goes to the biggest parties. Her beauty and spirit is often the center of attention. However, she is far from a conceded attention seeker. Instead, she is a kind and soft spoken young woman who is just excited to be where she is. Her love of life is infectious and made ever more powerful with the knowledge of her impending demise hanging over the audiences heads.
Being a Hollywood hangout movie means that just about the entire film is a series of opportunities for actors to either deliver amazing dialogue or act out sequences of unforgettable excitement. In fact, there are so many great scenes that it’s very hard to pick a favorite. DiCaprio gets a fantastic villains monologue with Luke Perry that is literally capped by being told it was “the best acting I’ve ever seen”. Pitt gets a ridiculously tense sequence with the Manson family at the Spahn Ranch. And Robbie gets an unforgettable sequence of her going to the movies that will leave a massive smile on your face. Each and every scene compliments the next, but the wonderful thing is how long they are all allowed to play out. Some scenes where Dalton is acting go on for damn near 15 minutes. There’s no purpose to them for to the plot that couldn’t have been put across in a few minutes, but you would feel completely short changed if Tarantino had cut any of this out. You legitimately get to live with these people for a few days and their lives are about as entertaining as it gets.
You couple all of this with a strikingly well curated soundtrack and a meticulously crafted world, and you’ve got the recipe for one of the best films of the year! Tarantino says that he’s only got this and perhaps one movie left in him. While this is a depressing thing to hear, if you had to go out on top, then that’s exactly what he’s doing here.