It’s said that Quentin Tarantio has called his latest film, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, his Magnum Opus. Whether his fans agree or disagree, to call the 9th out of the 10 planned feature films of his career his most important piece is daring and begs us to pay close attention. To savor every detail. To find deeper meaning in this story.
The film is a gripping tale spun out of Hollywood history at the sunset of the golden era. In 1969, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fading movie star. He’s best known for his lead role in a television western, Bounty Law. With the realization that he’s “a has-been” he throws himself into some new western roles and even some spaghetti westerns. That’s also good news for his friend and stunt double, Clint Booth (Brad Pitt), who tags along, hopes for work, but mostly drives Rick around since he lost his license. One day while Rick is busy filming, Clint picks up a young hippie girl hitchhiking and takes her home, which happens to be an old Hollywood movie ranch he and Rick used to work on. Clint senses something sinister there. The story ties in, Rick’s new neighbors, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate as well as a few of their friends that share an eventful evening.
DiCaprio and Pitt working together brings us one of the best on screen duos I’ve ever seen. They’re both Hollywood icons most Tarantino fans have watched growing up and to see them together for the first time is wonderfully entertaining. DiCaprio’s violent improvising in the trailer is one of the best moments in the film. And Pitt’s charismatically aloof character with a fishy past is captivating. While each of their roles are uniquely perfect for them, their chemistry between them is solid and electrifying. At times, they make this film feel like a buddy movie, especially when Clint has to remind Rick who he is.
Tarantino films are known to be especially violent. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood also has those extremely violent moments that only Tarantino could pull off. True to his fashion, many of those moments made me laugh in horror. I loved it. But without giving too much away, I will say that there is quite a bit less violence than usual for Tarantino. Most of the film is rather calm and focuses on story and character interaction. And it never feels dull. But when the knives are out, it goes from zero to sixty in no time and keeps getting more intense until the end.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Tarantino’s love letter to Hollywood’s golden age, where he tries to administer some justice. It makes me wonder just how much affect the Manson murders had on young Quenton and how much he may have idolized those tv cowboys like Dalton played. The film is full of nostalgia and style, from the shiny classic cars, vintage shop fronts down to the knit hippie clothes. And of course, I love how much his use of stunt workers as characters. The scene between Pitt, Zoe Bell, Kurt Russell and Mike Moh as a young Bruce Lee was one of my favorites.
“You know, you’re kinda pretty for a stuntman.”