Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The bottom line is that this is the best buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Ironically, Tarantino’s film is based in 1969, the same year that Newman/Redford starred in their masterpiece.
As I sat down in the theatre to see Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I was filled with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. Recreating Hollywood in 1969 as noted above, this inventive movie shines a camera on a film industry that embraced booze and cigarettes.
The film centers on Rick Dalton, a struggling television western star reduced to roles as a villain as his career slowly erodes. Spending most of his days in a gradual state of intoxication, he returns each night to his home where he lives in the Los Angeles hills next to a married couple by the name of Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate.
Leonardo DiCaprio is flat out mesmerizing in his role as Dalton, a depressed actor trying to hang onto his career. While alcohol helps him overcome his increasingly depressed state, his friendship with Cliff Booth, his dedicated long-time stunt man, makes this R-rated film a sure bet as an Oscar nominee this year.
As good as DeCaprio is, Brad Pitt elevates his career to the stratosphere playing Booth, a quiet guy dedicated to helping his friend. Living alone in a trailer with his faithful pitbull Brandy, Pitt’s Booth serves as little more than Dalton’s driver and housekeeper. Both a handsome and intelligent man, Booth harbors none of Dalton’s angst. On the other hand, he has a hidden physical strength that you don’t want to challenge, and wait until you see him fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of a film that costs him his job.
While you know from the beginning that this film will end with the Manson family’s encounter with the pregnant Sharon Tate and her house guests, this is largely a non-violent movie until then. While there are some occasional fights, almost everything has a comic angle where you will surprise yourself by laughing rather than watching a Tarantino film in a constant state of horror.
The film’s powerful magnetic effect centers on largely small roles from multiple well-known actors. It begins with Margo Robbie as Sharon Tate, a beautiful young woman who gains intense pleasure from going to a theatre to watch herself in a small role on screen. While contributions are made from Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, Emile Hirsch and Luke Perry in his last role, four other performances need to be acknowledged.
To begin with, Damian Lewis appears as Steve McQueen in a role where it looks like this great actor was brought back from the grave. Julia Butters gives a spectacular performance as a ten-year-old child who is appearing with Dalton in his latest role. Wait until you see what happens when she sits on his knee.
And then there are the performances of Bruce Dern as George Spahn and Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme. Dern is funny beyond words as the bedridden owner of the old farm frequently used as a movie set where the Mason family now resides. Squeaky is a nasty little woman who finds a way to keep Spahn satisfied.
While you see the chilling relationship of the Manson family when Pitt gives a female hitchhiker known as Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) a ride to the farm, be prepared to watch some incredibly fascinating developments in the film’s conclusion. Let me simply say that Tarantino finds a way to re-write history in the same fashion as Danny Boyle did in Yesterday, and the violence that occurs will leave you unexpectedly shocked in a fashion that you would have never anticipated.
Let me conclude by saying that the film finds a way to center on Dalton’s use of a flame thrower both on and off screen. See this film quickly and find a way to satisfy your curiosity.