by Ryan Tavera
Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood lives up to the standards that one of America’s greatest living directors has set for all of his films.
Going into this film, this reviewer expected a classic Tarantino affair, with blood-filled scenes and clever dialogue. However, this film is breaking away from trademark aesthetics such as his nonlinear storytelling and speech heavy scenes. Instead, he focuses more on traditional storytelling, making a smooth watching experience and entertaining piece of film.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes place in 1969 and pays homage to an era otherwise known as the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Tarantino makes you feel as if it’s a cool summer night, and you’re swerving in and out of streets through the hills of Hollywood. The imagery of classic cars and music really bring to life the 60s atmosphere, with the inclusion of locations such as drive-in movies, poshy theaters, and bright lights throughout the streets.
Disregarding the fun and laid back atmosphere Tarantino creates in his films, the movie revolves around a much more sinister story. As the title of this movie suggests, this film is a fairytale settled in reality.
If you know anything about 60s Hollywood or cults in general, you might have heard about Charles Manson, a prominent cultist leader who referred to his group as his “family”, as well as Sharon Tate, a famous actress of the period associated with Manson. On August 19th, 1969, Tate, who was pregnant at the time, was staying at her house located in the Hollywood hills with a group of friends when cult leader Charles Manson and his group brutally murdered her and her friends.
Tarantino takes this tragic story and twists the ending of the brutal killings. In Tarantino’s tale, he changes the outcome significantly. Instead of the Manson family being punished, Tarantino’s trademark features kick in towards the end, and his signature over the top violence makes this story his own. Even though the movie eventually all builds up towards Sharon Tate and the Manson family’s big ending, don’t think of this film solely as that.
Instead, the movie focuses on Tate’s neighbor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is grasping on to his fame and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Both are struggling to find their place in an ever-changing Hollywood.
Rick Dalton, once a figure of prominence of Hollywood, starred in a popular western television show “Bounty Law.” However, when the show ended, so did Rick’s place in the spotlight.
As a character, he is uneasy and dramatic, either drinking his pain away or smoking a cigar while on the verge of tears. Cliff, his stunt double, is found frequently comforting Rick, running errands for him and driving Rick around in his 1966 Cadillac.
Cliff Booth, on the other hand, is a war veteran who lives in a trailer with his pitbull named Brandy and is a sharp man who is bold but wary. He seems to always have every situation under his control.
It is also rumored that he murdered his wife, which Tarantino briefly shines a light on, but it is never revealed if he did or didn’t, leaving the audience to have their own speculations.
The stand out in this film, however: DiCaprio and Pitts’ staggering performances.
Every time they’re on the big screen, they’re the center of attention. DiCaprio has delivered again with his phenomenal acting that every cinema lover has come to know over decades of excellence. He brings Rick Dalton to life, and his expressions make his character seem always on edge and agitated.
But Pitt really steals the show. It seems as if the role was written specifically for him, as he plays a likable protagonist who is a straightforward yet a rugged man, always the predominant force in the room.
Each segment of the film is made almost like a short story, where the scenes can range from 10-50 minutes long, and in between each short story are usually visually stunning shots of L.A., with vibrant lights everywhere and music in the background to really create an aesthetic environment.
In particular, my personal favorite scene was when Cliff Booth visits an old ranch where he once shot westerns, but didn’t know it was being used as the hideout of Charles Manson’s cult.
Your eyes are simply glued to Brad Pitt’s character as he walks on the seemingly deserted ranch. As the music begins to play in the background, he slowly approaches the house sitting on the hill, people seemingly pop out of nowhere in between abandoned trucks and run downed buildings, which makes for an extremely suspenseful bit of film. The eerie and mysterious vibe of the scene makes you want Cliff to turn back and get out of there, but at the same time, you really want to figure out what’s going on in the house.
At its center Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn’t about suspense, nor is it about the tragedies that happened in 1969. It is a buddy-buddy film featuring DiCaprio and Pitt whos acting converges excellently. When they appear on screen together, it makes for an easy-going and entertaining scene.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a slow-burning stick of dynamite. The fuse is the first two hours of the film, filled with nods to 60s L.A and great character development, while the explosion is the last 40 minutes, and trust me the ending is certainly worth the wait.