By Marc S. Sanders
There’s no question the most different of Quentin Tarantino’s directorial efforts is his latest film, Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood. Already described as his “love letter to cinema of the late 60s,” his 9th effort also implies the end of the Hippie Era by devoting a portion of time to B movie actress Sharon Tate, infamously murdered by Charles Manson’s followers when she was 8 months pregnant with Roman Polanski’s child.
Margot Robbie plays a near, gorgeous exact replica of Tate. She’s deliberately short on dialogue and I like to believe it’s because Tarantino treasures her as an innocent angel who was loving the atmosphere of Hollywood. She’s preserved of being nothing but likable. She dances with glee in her bedroom in the Hills or in public at the Playboy Mansion. One day she visits the local cinema to see her performance in “The Wrecking Crew” with Dean Martin. Tarantino shoots close ups of Robbie loving her footage as a pratfall klutz while listening to the audience reaction. She’s loving every second of the experience. People love her and she sees the love she has for people. Critics took issue with Robbie’s lack of dialogue. Not me. The performance is all there. Robbie is wonderful to look at with responses of pure happiness and celebration.
The main focus of the film is on Rick Dalton played by Leonardo DiCaprio with a huge range of drama, comedy and well intentioned over acting when Tarantino is wanting to spoof the TV western for fun. We see a collection of Dalton’s work, most especially on the fictional black and white TV western that airs Sundays at 8:30 on NBC (cue Dalton’s cowboy hat close up accompanied with “BONG, BONG, BONG!).
Rick is realizing he’s becoming past his prime. Marty Schwarz, his agent and a producer, played by Al Pacino warns Rick that he’s at a point where he’s only going to be the villain of the week on The Green Hornet and Batman. Rick does not take this well. Using his stunt double pal, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) to talk to, Rick is consumed with insecurity and alcoholism.
Tarantino wants to depict an era in Hollywood on its way out. A fictional character like Rick and the well known fate of Sharon Tate symbolize this turning point.
A third example is with Cliff. Rumored to have killed his wife, Cliff has trouble finding stunt work on a set. So he’s happy enough to just drive Rick around in his Cadillac, and fix his antenna. A great moment occurs when Cliff antagonizes a cocksure fist of fury Bruce Lee to a fight. Bruce doesn’t do so well against Cliff. Bruce Lee maybe not be what he once was, or what audiences ever perceived. Times they a changin’.
This is not the aggressive film that Tarantino is mostly known for. It’s primarily calm as we see these characters navigate around Hollywood locals, listening to The Rolling Stones and the Mamas & The Papas, and various product advertisements. Rick and Cliff are suffering a little. Suffering at the loss of what they were and the world they are forced to enter, nor what they are accustomed to. Sharon is ready for what’s next. Yet, will she get the opportunity to carry on?
The ending is bound to leave people divided. It’s different and very, very unexpected. It makes no difference how you feel about it. What matters is if it generates a response, and based on the theatre where I saw the film, yes! Yes, there is a massive response to what occurs.
Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is not his best film. There were moments where I thought it was a little slow and the film lacks the dialogue punch that many know Tarantino for. There’s really not one memorable line that stayed with me. I guess that’s what the trade off is when you finally are served multi dimensional characters that Tarantino has hardly offered before.
It’s the best non Tarantino film that Quentin Tarantino has ever directed.