“Once upon a time... in Hollywood” takes real-time events and turns them on their head, including fictional characters to keep the proceedings moving and the added bonus of Quentin Tarantino’s staple pop culture humour and over-the-top violence.
Quentin Tarantino is back with his ninth film, “Once upon a time... in Hollywood”, a movie set in Hollywood’s golden age of cinema and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton with Brad Pitt as his long-time stunt double, Cliff Booth. The film follows the two friends as they make their way around an industry that has seen a major shift in movie making, leaving Dalton on the side-line and struggling to find work.
Booth, who is the loyal confidant of the fading television cowboy, is also struggling to find his feet in the new Hollywood system after being accused by multiple people of murdering his wife, Billie Booth (Rebecca Gayheart). However, Tarantino cleverly leaves this subplot ambiguous, allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusion from a flashback that has Cliff and Billie on a boat and Billie scolding him as he sits holding a beer with a harpoon lying diagonally across his lap, pointing towards his obnoxious wife. The scene, while not obviously implicating that it is referencing the murder of Natalie Wood, has similarities that are hard to ignore, and these parallels crop up often throughout the film with other characters.
"Tate is played by Margot Robbie, and while she’s not given a lot to do, what she does do is bring humanity to the role, which allows the victim to exist external to the Manson pop culture."
Another subplot surrounds the Manson family and the death of Sharon Tate and her friends. Without giving too much of the plot away, Tarantino is uncharacteristically respectful with the film’s handling and does an impressive job of profiling the star and her final days while incorporating his own mythology into the proceedings. Tate is played by Margot Robbie, and while she’s not given a lot to do, what she does do is bring humanity to the role, which allows the victim to exist external to the Manson pop culture.
In the film’s climax Tarantino takes a big risk that will inevitably divide its audiences. Upon leaving the multiplex I heard whispers of disappointment from ticket holders that the director avoided the brutality Tate was subjected to, but “Once upon a time... in Hollywood” isn’t about Tate’s life, nor is it about her fate, it’s about a fictional actor who, decades into his career, is wrestling with concerns that he’s reached the end of his glory days. And, to Tarantino’s credit, the message is projected loud and clear, but there’s still enough going on external to the melancholy storytelling to entertain the viewers without them succumbing to Dalton’s depressive alcoholic state of mind.
Tarantino is an acquired taste, and “Once upon a time... in Hollywood” follows a well-trodden formula that sparked a minor revolution in the way films employed cinematic language in the 90s. Here he applies his trademarks to the industry’s creative insecurities head-on, which will no doubt deliver mixed reactions from fans, critics and audiences alike.