05 September 2019
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Film by Quentin Tarantino
reviewed by Adam McCormack
Star rating ****
Films often generate maximum impact by telling several stories and bringing them all together in a dramatic climax. With Quentin Tarantino’s latest homage to the golden days of 1960’s Hollywood this impact is generated in spades. For much of the picture it is almost as if you are watching 2 films simultaneously, but by the closing credits Tarantino’s inspired approach is beautifully clear.
At its heart this is a buddy movie. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is the long-suffering stunt man and constant emotional and physical prop to the neurotic film and TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio). Dalton’s star is starting to fade after a poor last TV series and he is faced with the fruitless hope for pilots and guest roles as a heavy in the shows of others. Cliff is struggling to get stunt work as a result – not least because everyone is aware that he murdered his wife, but was not convicted. The only resort would be to move to Italy to make spaghetti westerns, as recommended by a Svengali-like Marvin Schwartz (Al Pacino). Throughout this narrative the paths of our fictional heroes cross with those of the real life characters involved in the murder of Sharon Tate and others on Cielo Drive. Charles Manson visits, looking for the previous occupant of Tate and her husband Roman Polanski’s house, which happens to be next to Rick’s, while Cliff gives a lift to a young girl who is living within Manson’s sect. The two parts of the narrative finally coalesce when Manson sends a group on a mission of murder.
For those of us who grew up up in the late sixties there are so many film, TV and music references to spot you would have to be a real expert to catch them all. The career of Rick clearly has many parallels with Clint Eastwood (he makes his name in a TV cowboy show called Bounty Hunter) and he does appear in many real shows – although fails the audition for The Great Escape. Di Caprio plays his role with perfect paranoia, while Pitt seems almost too good, and loyal, to be true, until of course he is forced to resort to violence (this is a Tarantino movie after all). Margot Robbie is perfect as a beguilingly simple Sharon Tate, happily sitting in a movie theatre enjoying the audience laughing at her performance, and there are great cameos from the likes of Damien Lewis (as Steve McQueen).
There has been much debate as to whether Tarantino has, in the past, been something of an apologist for Polanski. This is not the case here, given that Polanski is given little exposure and we are left in no doubt as to the strange living arrangements, where he and Tate share a house with her former boyfriend. There may be more scope to take issue with the way that Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) is portrayed, being called “Cato” by Cliff, but it would be a shame to lose their fight scene, which is a real highlight.
This film is way too good for me to give any spoilers, but suffice it to say that the action does not develop as one would expect. In a way that is all Tarantino, this is great entertainment and ultimately touching in its treatment of the vulnerable Tate.