'once upon a time…in hollywood' review

Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Photo: Andrew Cooper/Columbia Pictures
Quentin Tarantino isn’t the only director who makes movies that address, invoke, extol, parody, imitate, and fetishize other movies, but he’s one of the few whose dialogues with the past can occupy the same artistic plane as the objects of his reverence — và can even, on happier occasions, transcend it. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a very happy occasion. It’s a ramshackle ’60s pastiche that acquires a life of its own, evoking not just an era và its pop culture but also celebrating the impulse to lớn recreate & (the effrontery!) rewrite the past in line with his fantasies. Say what you will about those fantasies — they’re innocent, they’re deviant, they’re sometimes weirdly both at once — but no one imparts his pipe dreams so seductively.

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The ’60s that engages Tarantino doesn’t cảm biến on the healthy và corrective elements of the counterculture. If anything, he’s a reactionary, nostalgic for the lone-gunman TV Westerns of the ’50s và early ’60s, while using the Manson “family” members to represent hippies. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a fading Western TV star with a star-size drinking problem. Rick would self-destruct in private but for his bud, his amigo, his stuntman/driver/gofer/one-man entourage, Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. Discomfort is built into the relationship, because Cliff can’t get work on his own (there’s a scandal in his past) & because Rick no longer has the clout khổng lồ ensure that Cliff will be hired along with him. It gets awkward. Tagging along, Cliff seems lượt thích a bit of a masochist: After chauffeuring Rick home, he returns to his trailer, watches Mannix, và eats a bowl of macaroni và cheese (from a box) while his big dog beside him has a bowl of dog food (from a can — & slimy). They’re both good dogs. Rick, meanwhile, must consider a life in Italy with or without Cliff, where spaghetti Westerns beckon to lớn American actors past their prime.

For a while, Once Upon a Time seems as if it’s going lớn be nothing but a series of extended digressions. But it’s shaped like a Western, và gets better, tighter, and more surprising as it moseys along, plainly building khổng lồ the grisly, still-inexplicable tragedy that’s said lớn have ended the hedonistic feel of late-’60s Hollywood. Next door to Rick on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills live Roman Polanski — super-hot off Rosemary’s Baby — và his young bride, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whom we know going in will be butchered on the night of August 9, 1969, by Manson family members at the behest of their psychotic overlord. Tate is the film’s third and lesser protagonist, but Robbie has one of its most moving scenes, in which Tate goes to a theater to watch herself in a new Dean Martin–Matt Helm movie. If Tarantino has a Dream Girl, it would be Robbie here, her dirt-smudged bare feet (he’s notorious for his foot fetishism) on the chair in front of her, wide-eyed at seeing herself best Nancy Kwan in a karate fight. Be still my heart! That the footage onscreen is of the real Sharon Tate makes the sequence even more poignant.


I’m slightly older than Tarantino (I was born in ’59, Tarantino in ’63) but we mô tả a nostalgia for a culture we saw only from afar, too young to have gotten in on all the R-rated fun. As shot in glowing hues by Robert Richardson và designed by Barbara Ling (production) và Arianne Phillips (costumes), the bric-a-brac constitutes its own kind of fetishism. Marquees with titles like Three in an Attic (what did the trio vày up there?) are tantalizing, và so are radio commercials for perfume & trailers for such movies as C.C. And Company with Joe Namath on a motorcycle (plus Ann-Margret). There was no home video, of course, và no streaming, so you saw movies in theaters or waited for them lớn show up (edited, panned-and-scanned, broken up by commercials) on TV (on one of only six or seven channels). There’s no reason for Tarantino lớn have Rick’s effusive new agent (Al Pacino) mention that he watched Rick’s movies at trang chủ in 35 millimeter và TV shows in 16 except that it sounds so exotic, lượt thích saying you listened khổng lồ a single at 45 rpm. An issue of TV Guide (how umbilically attached we were lớn it!) sits on Cliff’s table. Robert Goulet murders “MacArthur Park” on the TV screen. Tarantino sets off the Mannix opening with its floating split screens & brassy Lalo Schifrin theme the way Warhol mix off his soup cans. The jam-packed soundtrack, chockablock with goodies, is its own love letter to the ’60s. Tarantino gives you the sense that he makes movies khổng lồ be able to lớn live inside them. They’re his time machines.

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His dialogue doesn’t have the tension of his other movies, but after the interminable macho patter of The Hateful Eight, I welcomed the gentle pacing và the characters’ introspection. I’ve never enjoyed DiCaprio more than in the middle section, in which Rick is a guest villain on a pilot for another TV Western starring an actor played by Timothy Olyphant. He has an exchange on a porch with little Julia Butters (a star is born!) as an endearingly serious child actress that proves DiCaprio doesn’t have to lớn grandstand to lớn draw you into his character’s alienation. He doesn’t even have khổng lồ furrow that wide brow khổng lồ suggest deep thoughts — they’re there in his stillness và in his melancholy, near-musical drawl. There’s a scene in his trailer (“You’re a fuckin’ miserable drunk!” he screams at himself in the mirror. “Get the lines right or I’ll blow your fuckin’ brains out!”) that taps into an aspect of DiCaprio’s personality I’ve never seen onscreen before — the fear of screwing up to lớn a point where he won’t be noticed anymore. (Nicholas Hammond is wonderful as the show’s director, Sam Wanamaker, an actor who’d go on to lớn recreate Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London; Tarantino introduces just enough Shakespearean diction into Wanamaker’s lines khổng lồ capture the essence of his passion.)


Cliff’s big sequence is almost as amazing. Tarantino has never written something as quietly foreboding as Cliff’s visit to lớn the Spahn Ranch, a former set for Westerns in which the Manson family has taken up residence. Cliff has given a lift khổng lồ one of the “girls,” played by Margaret Qualley (best known for The Leftovers), who beckons khổng lồ him with her eyes & then her whole toàn thân — so light it’s as if she’s wafted on air currents. (This is another star-making turn.) Cliff trudges around the compound under the suspicious glare of other girls — a posse that includes Lena Dunham và Dakota Fanning as “Squeaky” Fromme — in tìm kiếm of the owner he worked with a decade earlier. In Mary Harron’s recent Manson drama, Charlie Says, the blind, elderly Spahn was seen being fellated by a Manson girl, but here he’s a full-blown figure of pathos played by Bruce Dern, whose customary cantankerousness suggests a man whose age và disabilities have helped transform him into a helpless addict. (Manson doesn’t appear in this sequence. Damon Herriman plays him with spooky dishevelment in a scene in which the madman wanders onto Tate’s property looking for its previous resident, the music producer Terry Melcher.)

It’s hard to vì chưng justice lớn the riches of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, khổng lồ its cameos (Damian Lewis as mean Steve McQueen!) & its droll bits of business, among them a devilish shot featuring a speargun. Tarantino has audaciously written Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh) as an arrogant dick who lectures Hollywood stuntmen on his superiority. There are lapses. Al Pacino doesn’t have the fine-tuning for a Tarantino movie — his generalized hamminess sticks out. The shots of the lank-haired, scowling Manson girls spread out in a line are a misogynist’s nightmare — they look ready to lớn tear Cliff to lớn pieces like the Dionysian harpies in The Bacchae. I’m troubled that Tarantino suggests (even satirically) that square-jawed macho cowboys were victims of the counterculture và would have been (along with their fists, guns, và flamethrowers) the answer lớn its excesses.

But on its own terms, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a farrago of genius. Because of the horror that’s imminent, a sequence in which Hollywood’s neon signs (El Coyote, Musso & Frank, & more) hum lớn life as the sky darkens on August 9 is both lyrical và bristling with dread. The convulsively brutal climax I wouldn’t dare khổng lồ spoil. The finale is a wonder. Has there ever been a scene so simultaneously euphoric and heartbreaking? Tarantino’s dream world is a sadistic place, but in a way it’s sublime, lượt thích heaven nestled inside hell.


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