The plot is set in Los Angeles in 1969, in the very boom of hippie Hollywood. The main characters are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a former star of a popular television western, without self-confidence and with alcoholic habits, whose career is on a downward trajectory, and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his long-time stuntman and assistant. Rick receives an offer to shoot a movie in Italy, which he takes as an indication that his career has failed, so he uncertainly decides to give his best during the filming of the new series pilot. Cliff is followed by the reputation that he killed his wife and works less and less, and drives around town more and more. The two struggle to find their way in the changing Hollywood film industry, and Rick has a very famous neighbor, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie)…
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is, in Tarantino’s words, a love letter to Los Angeles and the sixties, a fairytale tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age. After deciding to cut ties with the production company The Weinstein Company, which was behind all of his films, Tarantino had the luxury of literally choosing who to work with and dictating his terms. The choice fell on Sony Pictures, which granted what most filmmakers want – free hands and the right to final cut. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May of this year.
What makes Tarantino’s films stand out are playing with long shots and the camera in general, technical polish, eccentric characters, homages to the director’s idols, references to pop culture, stylized violence, but also screenplay bravado. Given that this film is set in the sixties and deals with Hollywood, and the announcements mentioned historical figures such as Sharon Tate, Bruce Lee or Charles Manson, I did not expect a dynamic spoof like Kill Bill. However, I expected it to stay consistent with what we are used to from it, which is the epic proportions of the story, themes and presentation.
After almost three hours of the film, it is easy to conclude that this is an unusual cinematic epic that can only be made by an author who loves his work, a sentimentalist who yearns for some bygone times. Everything that inspired him as a young auteur, such as Spaghetti Westerns, classic Asian action films or the beginnings of slasher horror, is here, with the addition of hippie culture, a carefully chosen soundtrack and, of course, feet. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is, in short, a representation of the twilight of an era and the people who live for Hollywood, a place that does not forgive when the work stops.
Tarantino stayed true to his style, but I get the impression that this time he consciously took the risk of compromising the watchability of his film in order to achieve an artistic sensibility. He made no concessions to the commercial aspect of the project and certainly did not aim for his film to appeal to everyone. His uncompromisingness has met with some criticism due to the length of time, the concept and the dragging out of the plot, as if this is not Tarantino. He was also criticized for neglecting historical events, as if this was not the man who in Inglorious Basterds presented a history based on the influence of his fictional characters.
If you know what happened to Sharon Tate, her appearance in the film will create nothing but romanticized melancholy, which will not only concern her. The golden age of Hollywood is ending, the stars of the past will fade, the hippie movement has failed to ensure self-sustainability and independence. While Rick and Cliff’s careers are going downhill, Sharon is just getting started. Full of life, cheerful and sexy, Sharon’s character is mostly unnecessary for the purpose of the story, but her striking presence is very important to the tone of the film, as her fate wanders our minds whenever we see her.
There is no classic plot in this film because everything comes down to details, and this is especially true of Tarantino’s vast knowledge of popular culture. He creates and recreates shows and movies from that era in detail and convincingly, so we see a western in which Rick portrays a bounty hunter, a black and white movie in which he kills Germans with a flamethrower, a music video and a scene from the movie The Great Escape in which he replaced Steve McQueen. All these scenes fit into the story with great ease, which mixes fiction and reality until the moment when reality looks like it’s about to crash down on us all.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are superstars that most of us would watch sitting on a chair and staring into space. There is no need to talk about the qualities of their acting and they deliver what they know best in this film. The two complement each other perfectly and serve as a support to each other, just as Cliff supports Rick, even though they have different views on life and the world.