Leonardo DiCaprio Brad Pitt Margot Robbie Dakota Fanning Timothy Olyphant Al Pacino
Austin Butler Kurt Russell Luke Perry Damian Lewis Emile Hirsch Bruce Dern Lena Dunham
How about a movie that changes history…but in a way we would applaud rather than criticize? Once Upon a Time in Hollywood accomplishes that and more. It’s homage to famed Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America and his "spaghetti western", Once Upon a Time in the West. But Quentin Tarantino’s films are usually about more than just one thing, and here, in addition to the reference to Leone, he expresses broader references/reverence to movies and TV programs in the 1960’s in California and its culture (dress, music, radio ads, cars, actors, and disgust of “Hippies”). These are used as backdrop to the central story about a fictional movie/TV icon, Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt).
Rick’s story is that he has a home on the same street as Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, whom he has only seen once. He is currently preoccupied with his fame as a badass hero in movies and television coming to an end and he is desperately trying to change its course, going so far as even traveling to Europe and making films (and money) over there. His cool best friend/stunt double/caretaker Cliff seems to go along with whatever he comes up with and, importantly, helps boost his self-esteem when he is down on himself.
Their stories take different trajectories when Rick is in Europe, and Cliff is house sitting and just hanging out. At one point, he takes a young seductive hitchhiker to Spahn Ranch where he and Rick used to make movies. He decides to look up the owner, George Spahn (Dern), and pay him a visit. Unbeknownst to him, this is where the Manson Family has taken over, and this is how Tarantino weaves in the Manson/Tate story. He has a different take on it, however, in a way that you will discover when you see the movie.
Tarantino has done something remarkable in weaving together so many entertaining themes—some quite disparate from others—and including a dozen cameos of well-known actors and real people (especially noteworthy are those of Bruce Dern and Dakota Fanning). It’s wonderful to revel in moviedom as you watch the film and bask in its rich history; the more knowledgeable the viewer is about movies, the more he/she will appreciate it. But the story about the two main characters is likewise intriguing. DiCaprio and Pitt play off each other very well, and come across as true “Bros.” Their characters, Rick and Cliff, have a friendship to be admired, and yet…when we hear Rick’s account of the last evening’s events, somehow, Cliff is not mentioned.
There are several other observations I made that seem a bit curious. One is prominent scenes in which women are snoring (is this a joke?). Another is the disgusting scenes of Rick coughing/hacking/spitting from smoking when smoking is mostly portrayed as cool and sexy. It makes me wonder if cigarette companies provided some of the funds, but filmmakers don’t necessarily approve of smoking.
A fun and entertaining movie, especially for film buffs who can pick up on a plethora of references to films and film history and for those who can appreciate the exquisite quilt made by the stories within it.
Grade: A- By Donna R. Copeland