Tarantino is back with his latest film, a love letter to 1960s Hollywood where he combines everything Tarantino-esque in a mixture of grindhouse, martial arts, westerns, war and exploitation. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood follows fading actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he struggles to decide whether to play bad guys on TV or go to Italy to make Spaghetti Westerns.
His stuntman and friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) tags along the journey as he drives Rick around acting more like his driver and mechanic being largely unemployable due to Rick’s status and also Cliff’s notorious history. Living next door is rising starlet Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) whose presence flirts on the edge of Rick Dalton’s life, his ambition fueled by her and her husband Roman Polanski being his neighbors. The story takes its hard left in troubleville when Cliff picks up a hippie girl named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) and gives her a ride to Spahn Ranch where the Manson Family lives. Cliff, being the hot-heated war veteran that he is, naturally gets into an altercation with the creepy family members and this brings the cult to Hollywood. Sharon enjoys the response to her new movie The Wrecking Crew and her storyline pretty much stays disconnected to that of Rick and Cliff’s until the final scene where the culmination of events results in an alternate history event.
While the first two thirds of the movie struggled a wee bit with the pace, mostly which I believe was due to the edit – (was it just me or where there jump cuts that didn’t look intentional?), the climax of the movie more than makes up for any shortcomings as we see Cliff Booth fight off the murderous Manson family members and Rick Dalton finally gets what he always wanted ever since he sighted the Polanskis.
Tarantino beautifully wraps the film’s narrative with existing movie lore, history and pretty much stitches the entire thing into a commercial art collage. While I did notice that there was the massive absence of his frequent collaborator Samuel L. Jackson, a lot more familiar faces from previous Tarantino movies drop by. The backdrop of Los Angeles serves as the perfect grounds for this tale and the soundtrack of 60s era pop tunes adorn the audio spectrum. The film has been criticized in the media as of late due to its depiction of the late Bruce Lee who is characterized as more of a pompous and over-the-top dramatic attention queen and I get why his daughter Shannon Lee was so pissed off at Tarantino who, given his adoration for the master, could definitely have done better. However, the scene played off well in the story sense of things where it successfully displays how much of a badass Cliff is.
I wish Sharon Tate’s character had something more to do and while she does feel a little less explored, her sweet and fun demeanor brings lightheartedness to the flick. Additionally, the film feels more mature than any other Tarantino movie and at the same time, very playful. As frequently reported, this might be the maestro’s penultimate film before he finally stops at his tenth but the buildup from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood can only leave us with a high. Unlike most other Tarantino movies, this film actually ends on a positive and happier note. Even if you aren’t familiar with any of his other flicks, Once Upon a Time is a visual spectacle and a good lesson in traditional filmmaking embroiled in nearly three hours worth of classic cinema.
Courtesy of Akash SK