Quentin Tarantino’s newest film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a whimsical, romantic tribute to the silver screen – a huge departure from the famed director’s signature grit and stomach-churning gore.
In fact, the ninth film by Tarantino has hardly any carnage or viscera; instead, it’s a nostalgic celebration of the golden Hollywood era, giving a detailed insight into the glamour and craft of filmmaking.
Set in 1969 in Los Angeles, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood follows the stories of three characters: television star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), Dalton’s stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and budding actress and model Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).
Multiple storylines weave together forming the effortless plot; the struggles facing the demise of Dalton’s ageing persona and Booth’s reality as a defunct stunt double, contrasting with Tate’s blossoming silver-screen career.
Dalton was once the star of a western television series, but years after it finished, he has struggled to land prime roles. As a result, his agent (Al Pacino) wants him to work in Italy on “spaghetti westerns” – a concept Dalton detests.
The light plot makes for easy, engaging and, at times, hilariously comical viewing. Its gentle pace perfectly sets the scene of 1960s America, particularly when Booth is driving around the town showcasing old-school LA and when Dalton is on set acting (and forgetting lines) in westerns.
Barefoot hippies, period cars (including a soft yellow 1966 Cadillac DeVille, driven by Booth), dusty western sets boasting saloons and cowboys, vintage space age style cameras, constant plumes of thick cigarette smoke, simple handpainted billboards, and rat- and raccoon-flavoured dog food for Booth’s affectionate pooch combine to illustrate the era. But it wouldn’t be the swinging ’60s without touches of cheek and blurring the lines of political correctness.
In true Tarantino style, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood runs for 2 hours and 45 minutes – his fifth-longest film. Albeit slow at times, it is ultimately building up to a violent end.
While Tarantino’s depiction isn’t a true story, there are characters based on several real people, including actress Tate, who was heavily pregnant when, on 8–9 August 1969, members of the Manson clan broke into the home she shared with husband Roman Polanski and murdered her and four other adults.
The horror of this instantly kills the carefree lifestyle of love and peace.
Perhaps as a way to honour Tate’s memory, Tarantino includes a scene where Robbie’s character watches herself perform in The Wrecking Crew at the cinema, but the pictures on the screen are real-life Tate.
Having been criticised for his simplistic approach in addressing Tate’s murder, Tarantino creates a sliver of hope, allowing for her memory to live on in what could have been. By flipping the target of the Manson murderers (spoiler: Tate doesn’t die), it perhaps protects the honour of Tate by instead giving the “hippie cult” perpetrators what they deserve.
Booth unknowingly saves Tate from the historical massacre when the trio arrive at Dalton’s house with a plan to kill everyone there. The stunt double single-handedly takes down the knife and gun-wielding hippies with a tin of dog food as his weapon – all the while, Dalton is floating in his pool chair utterly oblivious.
The final scene is the bloodiest, most violent part of the entire movie, yet it was arguably the most hilarious (just wait until you see DiCaprio behind a flamethrower).
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is Tarantino’s love letter to Tinseltown’s golden age and, with all the winning ingredients of grim murder, Hollywood stars, smatterings of truth and 1960s psychedelics, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.