Five Margot Robbie toes, four Leo mood swings, only three deaths, two alcoholics, and a man as real as a donut.
Quentin Tarantino is one of Hollywood’s most beloved working directors and his swan song film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, delivers a satisfying conclusion to the end of his illustrious career announcing his retirement after this film.
Nearing 30 years in the industry, his signature style has developed a beloved cult following. His encyclopedic knowledge of movie history is the work of legends and his latest film is the perfect canvas for him.
The movie follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an aging movie star, best known for a studio TV Western series ‘Bounty Law.’ With his glory days behind him, Dalton’s career is failing—now consigned to playing the bad guy on other younger stars’ shows.
Descending into alcoholism and self-loathing, Dalton and his former stunt double now driver Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) navigate a world of masculinity in the 1960s (Dalton is at one point, told “not to cry in front of the Mexicans.”)
Next door to Dalton, Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) move in. A knowing viewer hears the alarm bells ringing, with the back drop of the Manson murders in 1969.
From there, events occur in a flowy dream like kind of way. But, sometimes without clear connection to one another. The second act plods along slowly, cutting between Tate’s rising stardom and Dalton’s falling one.
The pieces start to come together in the third act and the film crescendos with an explosion of violence and blood.
Despite this, the movie manages to subvert expectations of what we expect from Tarantino or even movies in 2019. It drifts and lingers lovingly favouring style over plot.
Classical fans of Tarantino might be left feeling a little empty as the film departs so much from his style. However, it also shows a maturity and restraint sometimes not present in some of his work.
It is ultimately a love letter to Hollywood. Nothing more and nothing less. The 1960s production design is painstakingly accurate and makes anybody nostalgic, for as Tarantino put it “a time before cellphones.”
From a period accurate cologne commercials to an expectedly stellar, diegetic soundtrack. The movie goes out of its way to make you fall in love with old Hollywood.
The film’s fictional movies within the movie are hysterical and hold a mirror to the career of Tarantino. Inglorious Basterds becomes a fictional 60s movie called, ‘The 10 McLuckesys‘ or The Great Escape, is recut with DiCaprio’s character as the star.
While much was made before the film of Pitt and DiCaprio, two of the biggest stars of this generation being together on screen for the first time, they actually don’t spend much time together. Individually, they are fantastic.
Their portrayal of the have and have nots of Hollywood is beautiful. Dalton the movie star lives in the hills and floats in a pool, while Booth lives in a trailer behind a drive-in theatre.
Dalton’s Missouri accent is masked by all the years of acting. He stutters and struggles with his emotions, while trying desperately to remain relevant.
DiCaprio is stunning as always, particularly in the scenes on set. A movie within a movie is a tough assignment. His maniacal mood swings from depressed and down on his luck to self-confident and reassured are amazing, feeling so true to what it must actually be like on the set of a movie.
While Dalton loses his mind and suffers from pressure, Booth is just happy to be along for the ride, with not a care in the world.
The contrast in performances is amazing and heightened by the editing and staging.
Robbie’s portrayal of Sharon Tate offers a third alternative to the history of movies. Spending most of the time either barefoot pregnant or both, she floats along, uplifted by the wave of movie success.
Lovingly photographed by Tarantino, she embodies his and our fetish for old-time movie stars. So much expectation is put on the character who narratively, is quite unimportant.
Tarantino uses these characters to reaffirm old Hollywood which is so often criticized today, perhaps rightfully so as the movie does show a marked lack of representation for people of colour.
Using Manson’s hippies as an allegory for modern leftism, Tarantino has a chance to respond to his critics. Brilliant screen writing, that everyone would expect by now from Tarantino.
Every line in the film effectively double speaks between waning film culture today and the waning career of Rick Dalton.
The movie is no doubt slow, perhaps too slow. It ponders scenes for a long time. Viewers more accustomed to fast paced films maybe turned off. But in the competent hands of Tarantino, the movie never drags too long at any point.
Love letters and industry satires often seem lifeless and a cheap way to entertain cinephiles. Is Tarantino merely participating in aggressive nostalgia or is he effectively trying to remind us of better days when we all looked up at screens communally instead of just down at screens disparately?
Complex questions that demand re-watching but are entirely worth it.
Eight Margot Robbie Toes, One Leo Yelling out of Ten Samuel L. Jackson Monologues.