ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
(director/writer: Quentin Tarantino; cinematographer: Robert Richardson; editor: Fred Raskin; cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton), Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth), Al Pacino (Marvin Schwarzs), Margot Robbie (Sharon Tate), Sydney Sweeney (Snake), Margaret Qualley (Pussycat), Kurt Russell (Randy), Dakota Fanning (Squeaky Fromme), Luke Perry (Wayne Maunder), Damian Lewis (Steve McQueen), Damon Herriman (Charles Manson), Harley Quinn Smith (Froggie), Timothy Olyphant (James Stacy), Bruce Dern (George Spahn), Austin Butler (Tex), Maya Hawke (Flower Child), Mike Moh (Bruce Lee), Scoot McNairy (Business Bob Gilbert), Lorenza Izzo (Francesca Capucci), Emile Hirsch (Jay Sebring), Lena Dunham (Gypsy), Rafal Zawierucha (Roman Polansky), Samantha Robinson (Abigail Folger), Costa Ronin (Voytek Frykowski ), Julia Butters (Trudi), Nicholas Hammond (Sam Wanamaker), Mikey Madison (Sadie), Madisen Beaty (Katie), Dreama Walker (Connie Stevens); Runtime: 161; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Quentin Tarantino, David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh; Columbia Pictures; 2019)
“It’s Tarantino’s fairy tale version of America, in the counter-culture days of the 1960s.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The popular American iconoclastic director-writer Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”/”Reservoir Dogs”) gives his all in this fascinating, derivative, exploitation, stylish, funny, revisionist history take of the real and fictitious events in the L.A. of 1969. He covers it on February 8 and 9, and then six months later on August 8th and 9th—the night of the Tate murder. The personal film tells of a time of America’s loss of innocence and does so in a series of vignettes on subjects that relate to TV, Hollywood, spaghetti westerns, hippies, until he eventually gives us his unique but inaccurate version on the gruesome murder of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and four others in her house by the Charles Manson Family. It’s Tarantino’s fairy tale version of America, in the counter-culture days of the 1960s. He lectures us that the country was so inundated with murders, that the children grow up at that time (including the 6-year-old Quentin) watching mostly TV shows that had violence as its main ingredient. He points out that it’s no wonder such a culture in violence led to such a ghastly crime of the innocent but vain Sharon Tate.
The film is built around a comical fiction story involving a once popular TV Western star, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose successful career is in decline since his Bounty Hunter series was cancelled and now all he gets are villain roles where the hero gets him in the end. For the last nine years his stunt double/factotum, a Vietnam vet war hero, is his best pal named Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The stuntman is unable to get regular work because even though he was acquitted of killing his wife, many in the industry believe he got away with murder.
While Rick owns a fancy house on Cielo Drive, in the Hollywood Hills, and his new neighbor is the celebrated Roman Polanski (renting the house with his wife Sharon from Doris Day’s son Terry Melcher, whom Manson blamed for his musical career going cold. Thereby he was the original target of Manson). Cliff, meanwhile, roughs it living with his beloved pittbull in his cramped trailer in a lot behind the Van Nuys Drive-In.
The film’s fun is how Tarantino lays on us from all angles how movies get made and how the folks in the entertainment business get hired. He does this by mixing in real movie people with his fake Hollywood people. For instance, the real ones are Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis). Tarantino’s jabs at Lee as a twit (Lee gets tossed around when he picks a fight with Cliff on his movie set, after Cliff laughs at him for being a jerk when talking about boxing). We also get a peek into the Playboy Mansion party scene that shows the rugged ladies man McQueen acting jealous that the ‘little Polish prick stole the girl he wanted.’
The highlight scene for me was Cliff, driving his boss’s Cadillac and giving one of the Manson hippie girls, the audacious, flirty, under-aged Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), a ride back to her place with the Manson crew at the Spahn ranch. While there Cliff chats with a blind and demented George Spahn (Bruce Dern), the ranch owner allowing them to squat there, and Cliff feels the bad vibes from the hippies living there (and this is without the presence of Manson on the ranch).
This sequence soon leads to the revisionist murder scene, the film’s splashiest and most bloody, where Tarantino has complete artistic freedom to show the murder in a way that fits his ambitious agenda (showing it as a pulp revenge thing) and not script it according to the way the police blotter reports it actually happened on August 9th.
Tarantino gets superb performances from DiCaprio and Pitt (especially Pitt), who have great chemistry together and show off their acting chops by deliciously handling any acting chore they are asked to do. I got a kick out of Al Pacino’s hammy performance as Schwarts, the nervy agent of Rick’s (who gets him to Italy to do spaghetti westerns); Kurt Russell’s funny role as the tough guy movie set stunt-coordinator who is afraid to cross his wife; the creepy performance by Dakota Fanning as the knife-wielding Squeaky Fromme; the precious performance of the mature 8-year-old actress(Julia Butters) doing a movie scene with the insecure Rick in a Western; and the flamboyant performance by Nicholas Hammond as the insincere flattering manipulative movie director (in his film, he gives Rick an appearance change as a hippie villain).
The period piece film dazzled me with its wall-to-wall of Tarantino schlock, something he admires as his kind of art; and, with him trying so desperately to grasp what was happening to his changing Hollywood (the studios were in financial trouble and the new trend was indie personal films) and then lecturing us what was happening even if he didn’t quite catch the essence of those ‘revolutionary’ times. Nevertheless, despite the auteur’s missteps, he made a very entertaining nostalgia film (a one of a kind movie, in other words a Tarantino film).
REVIEWED ON 7/27/2019 GRADE: B+