By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Writer/director Quentin Tarantino is back and with a movie that celebrates and honors one of his favorite subjects in his life and career–Hollywood. Now, as the veteran filmmaker faces his eventual retirement, it is absolutely appropriate and relevant that his new movie deal with the end of an era. The main character, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a washed-up actor struggling to remain viable in a changing climate. And perhaps Tarantino’s surrounding climate has changed, but the fearless and subversive director still fights to make movies on his own terms. That is just one of things I appreciate about his latest offering. Though Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a very different kind of movie from Tarantino, his heart and grit still remain in tact.
Leonard DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, a once successful actor who must now settle for guest starring roles in television shows. Rick and his assistant/buddy/former stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) spend their days struggling and begging for more work. Meanwhile, model/actress Sharon Tate’s (Margot Robbie) career is sailing at full speed ahead. The film takes place in the year 1969 when Hollywood’s golden age is coming to an end. Enjoying the successes of her new fame with husband Roman Polansky (Rafal Zawierucha), Tate is ready to party and enjoy the Hollywood social scene. The world is definitely changing, movies are changing, as are the talents in front of the camera. As Dalton, Booth, and Tate face the end of the decade, they are all doing their parts to keep the Hollywood machine turning.
It is now common knowledge that Quentin Tarantino is a huge pop culture fanatic and cinephile. So who more perfect than he should write and direct a movie that serves as a tribute to a fascinating era in Hollywood? Now before anyone answers, “Martin Scorsese,” which is also a coreect answer. I feel that Tarantino is much more creative and rebellious enough to put a visionary spin on factual events. That said, this movie is a work of fiction, but feels incredibly real thanks to the fantastic work of Tarantino and his crew.
Tarantino and his production people have put much effort and skill into recreating 1969 California. I don’t mean just the costumes, makeup and sets, but QT and cinematographer Robert Richardsdon make their audiences feel like they are watching a time capsule of a movie that features superbly written, created and acted scenes from television of the era.
Now, as far as the story and writing are concerned, this is where Hollywood differs the most from any of QT’s previous work. This movie plays much like a slice-of-life film that simply captures moments, emotions, and expressions with less dialog than what most people come to expect from a Tarantino movie. Don’t get me completely wrong, Tarantino still has the gift when it cones to writing the gab, but this film doesn’t focus so much on what is necessarily said, but what the characters are feeling and experiencing. This also serves to the film’s disadvantage, as I feel like the movie runs longer than it should, but thankfully the director has plenty of amazing surprises in store for the audience
The cast members also deliver the goods, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt being the real standouts of the film. They are both an absolute joy to behold on screen and make their characters heroes in the eyes of the audience. Margot Robbie is also wonderfully cast in the role of Sharon Tate, who is mostly portrayed here as Hollywood’s recent, “It girl,” with a genuine heart. Though the character doesn’t get as much development as her male leads, Tate is definitely the winsome actress next door riding the waves of success and happiness. Robbie’s charisma and charm are in perfect display here. The film also features some fantastic turns by actors Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Mike Moh, and Julia Butters.
Now, I know some people are going into this movie wanting an insightful movie about the Manson murders and this just isn’t that film. I mean, after all, this is a Tarantino picture, and though the Manson family does play an important part, this movie isn’t all about them. This movie serves as a portrait of an end of an era, and focuses on the heart and passion that goes into making movies and television. Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a work of love, celebration, and even subversive humor that helps maintain Quentin Tarantino as one of Hollywood’s more intriguing filmmakers.