DIR/WRI: Quentin Tarantino • PRO: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Fred Raskin • DES: Barbara Ling • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood marks Quentin Tarantino’s 9th feature film. It’s his self-confessed lament for the halcyon days of Hollywood, and the promise of a golden age that came and went, and the sadness born from that loss. We’re shot back in time by one of cinema’s defining auteurs, straight into the sun-soaked bliss of 1969, on a ride through the valley of dolls, dreams, and celebrity. But in the land of milk, honey and a thousand dances, nothing is what it seems. It’s a world of high flyers, low flyers and no flyers as we cruise through the tiered social strata of Hollywood.
Once Upon a Time… mainly follows faded and jaded TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio), a middle-aged actor passed his prime who never quite blossomed into a star. Rick’s big break was ‘The Fourteen fists of McCluskey‘, a feisty war picture that should have catapulted him to the stars but fell short. That said, Ricks no one-trick pony, he’s currently the star of TV western ‘Bounty Law‘, where he plays righteous lawman and purveyor of justice Jake Cahill. Between takes and beers, Ricks usually cruising with his best friend Cliff Booth(Brad Pitt). Cliff is Rick’s stunt double on ‘Bounty Law‘, and in his own words he’s just there “to carry the load.” Cliff is a warrior spirit, a weapon of a man, and a World War II veteran at that. But underneath his herculean physique and charming smile is a zen-like temperament, he’s a man accepting of his lot, which doesn’t amount to more than a dog, a trailer and a lingering rumour that he killed his wife. But make no mistake Cliff and Rick’s friendship is the driving force of the film, catapulting it forward scene by scene, pound for pound. Cliff keeps Rick’s spirit in check as he grabbles with his failures as an actor. Of course, matters aren’t helped by the fact that Hollywood royalty and emblems of success Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski are living next door; or that Manson hippie chicks are floating around the streets like sirens, trouble can’t be far.
Quentin’s vision for Once Upon a Time… is brought to the screen by regular collaborator cinematographer Robert Richardson. The cinematography is a dynamic dance somewhere between naturalism and sheer cinematic spectacle, envigorating late ’60s Hollywood with a raw earthy freshness. Richardson’s finely tuned eye and magnanimous lighting lend a painterly quality to every composition that can’t be argued with. Of course, then there’s the soundtrack. And as to be expected, it’s sonic gold for the eardrums, with some timely oldies and some less familiar ones to boot.
Brad Pitt gives a muscular and affectionate performance as Cliff Booth, lighting up the screen with smoking cool ’60s charm. Leonardo Di Caprio gives a masterful turn as wild west thespian Rick Dalton, unleashing a six-shooter’s worth of despair mixed in with a tablespoon of comic gold. Margot Robbie’s take on Sharon Tate is set to be the definitive cinematic realization; Robbie brings a candid naturalism and fiery vitality to her every movement. The main cast is accompanied by an ensemble of players fit to die for, with the likes of Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Damian Lewis, and Margaret Qualley.
Throughout Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, there’s a pervading tone of melancholy. Tarantino’s portrayal of Hollywood pierces through the thin veneer of LA glitz and glamour, in search of characters caught in an existential trap, and who can’t get out. This is Tarantino at his most mature since ‘Jackie Browne’, underneath its golden facade Once Upon a Time… is an expertly crafted meditation on the loss of the dreams of a generation. Tarantino’s film is a potent love letter to the end of an era in Cinema and history, and at its core it’s equally embedded in the present. The Tate/ La Bianca murders were a fulcrum in space and time, a catastrophic turning point that ended the ’60s, shattering free love and the hippie dream forever. It was a singular moment that was a precursor of everything to come, the toxic wave of ’70s paranoia and uncertainty, when a country was brought to its knees and an empire broke. Ultimately ,Tarantino taps into the electric vibrations that tingled in the air in ’69, there’s a lingering sense in every scene that things are coming to a close, its a sun-soaked funeral procession for all, and it ends with a bang that will reverberate throughout cinematic history.
18 (see IFCO for details)
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is released 14th August 2019