Hollywood 1969, fading TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) struggle to find work, as young actors like Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) see their stars begin to rise. But all is not well in Los Angeles, there's something rotten underneath that shiny veneer. And as the Spaghetti Westerns come calling for Rick, offering new work and popularity, he and Cliff may come home to find L.A. a very different place.
Quentin Tarantino's ninth movie is his love letter to Los Angeles and old Hollywood, at a time when its glory days were coming to an end. The glitz, the glamour, the ridiculous sized cars and some questionable fashion choices. There's even a tribute to Tarantino's love of film. But this is still a Tarantino movie, and as with all of his movies you don't really know what you're going to get - apart from great characters, an engrossing story and some gory violence. All of which can definitely be said of Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood, plot details have rightfully been kept under wraps, the trailers did little more than titivate audiences, meaning Tarantino can keep you guessing...the way he often does.
Each of the main characters get their own narrative, DiCaprio's Rick Dalton is dealing with a fading career in a run of small TV roles when Al Pacino's producer of Spaghetti Westerns comes a knocking. His stuntman, Pitt's Cliff Booth is the one who gets the most interesting narrative. He's also struggling for work, and whilst doing odd jobs for Dalton gets mixed up with some of Charlie Manson's (Damon Herriman) acolytes. All the while, Dalton's neighbour Sharon Tate is enjoying her new life as an up-and-coming Hollywood star. But there is a growing sense of impending doom as we draw closer to that fateful night in August 1969. Margot Robbie does get significantly less screen time than DiCaprio and Pitt, however her performance is a loving tribute to a life taken too soon.
Much like Inglourious Basterds, Once Upon A Time is Tarantino's unique take on this particular period in history. The result of which is some interesting appearances by Dalton in some real life movies and TV shows, with the real life actors who starred in them. Not to mention an incredibly tense encounter between Booth and members of the "Manson Family" - watch out for a particularly creepy performance by Dakota Fanning. But by far the best part of Tarantino's history of Hollywood is the point when Booth meets Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Although Lee's daughter was unhappy with her father's portrayal, it's easily one of the funniest scenes in the movie, and in true Tarantino style, it's one of those hilarious/where the hell did that come from moments.
But a movie like this is nothing without superb performances, and Once Upon A Time doesn't disappoint! As always there are some interesting appearances by some Tarantino regulars, including Michael Madsen - the real life owner of Dalton's Cadillac - and Kurt Russell. Margot Robbie is flawless as the young and excited new star, the scene in which Sharon Tate goes to see her own movie is very touching. DiCaprio and Pitt are perfect, both on their own and as a pair, it's easy to believe they've been friends and colleagues for years. The scenes where DiCaprio is portraying Dalton as he plays the villain in the pilot episode of "Lancer" is some of his best work. He has to approach the scene entirely differently so it's not DiCaprio playing the villain, it's Dalton. Seeing him struggling with lines and pressuring himself, the vulnerability and self-doubt is incredibly genuine. And it's made even more so by some brilliant co-stars, especially Timothy Olyphant and the delightful Julia Butters. But the real scene stealer is Sayuri as Booth's loveable Pit Bull, Brandy.
There is definitely a lot going on in this movie, and at 2 hours 41 minutes it moves at a slow - but steady - pace, which means you do have to wait a while for the traditional violence and gore to arrive. But this does allow for some real character development, and you can really feel the tension building as the Manson Family's presence grows. Despite the fact that this is already a long movie, I would have like to have seen a little more time spent on the ending. Just a few minutes to see where people end up, rather than the abrupt and slightly ambiguous ending we got, would have been great. That said, it is a fitting end to a masterpiece in filmmaking.
Quentin Tarantino has delivered another instant classic with his ninth movie. Thanks to an engrossing story and some tremendous performances, this is a colourful but tense journey through Hollywood as it was in 1969. The destination...one of the most infamous nights in modern American history.
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