Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood Jul 27, 2019 10:55:40 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jul 27, 2019 10:55:40 GMT -5
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (2019)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.
With a real lack of crackling dialog and witty narrative diversions, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is not the Quentin Tarantino you're used to seeing. His love-letter to a bygone era of Hollywood has large doses of sadness and despondence throughout, and it shows a more mature side of the veteran filmmaker/lover. The man who was once a quote-machine, unafraid to employ a nonlinear narrative and make a few pit-stops along the way to a rip-roarin' conclusion, downshifts to capture the essence of a time when Bonaza and The F.B.I. graced our television sets, Steve McQueen and Dennis Hopper were unlikely Hollywood poster-boys, and peace and free love was threatening the rigid family dynamic that defined the image of the 1950s.
In actuality, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is a 56-year-old director essentially going through his midlife crisis as he ponders a changing industry, quietly wondering if there is still a place for him amidst all the madness. Set over the course of six months in 1969, the film follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a hugely successful TV actor in the 1950s and early 1960s, most famous for being a staple of a primetime Western known as Bounty Law. However, the industry is shifting from cardboard-set Westerns to Sergio Leone-style spaghetti Westerns, rendering Dalton typecast as a one-off villain in many popular shows unless he wants to forge a career in Italy and follow the times.
Rick's closest confidant, who is everything from a literal shoulder-to-cry-on to his personal handyman, is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a stuntman who is the epitome of easygoing contentment. Cliff knows his role on any set is to "carry the load" of the star, and an early scene shows a contrast between Dalton's lavish pad and Cliff's shoddy home in a trailer-park. Don't expect these men to babble on ala Vincent and Jules, although there are memorable bits involving Rick lament about the state of his career to Cliff while waiting for their valet, not to mention another bit where Cliff comes face-to-face with Bruce Lee on a film-set. There's enough to make you shocked at the fact that both DiCaprio and Pitt have never appeared in a film together, much less side-by-side.
While Rick comes to terms with his acting career being in free-fall, Cliff eventually finds himself on the famous Spahn Ranch after picking up a cute hippie hitchhiker. Adding to that, there's a young actress named Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who is also Rick's next door neighbor. A beautiful blonde who has shacked up with director Roman Polanski, Tate is in the opposite position as Rick: she's young, nubile, and Hollywood can't be in short supply of good looking women to put in their films. Tarantino reminds us that against this picturesque landscape of opportunity and prosperity, a stain on the fabric of the peace/love movement, better known as Charles Manson, lurks, although if you know the director and his films well enough, you know better than to expect the predictable.
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood has an aesthetic very reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto video game series, most evident in scenes involving Cliff cruising up and down Burbank Avenue, surrounded by landmarks and period garb, and complete with era-specific tunes on the radio, such as Neil Diamond's infectious "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," to name one. Robert Richardson's cinematography captures the sun-soaked environment of the budding New Hollywood era with washed out colors and eye-catching pastels, with enough visual detail to allow your eyes to roam around the screen in amusement. Tarantino doesn't skip on filling the picture with great music, as stated, with Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Beatles, Vanilla Fudge, Deep Purple, and more capping off an utterly groovy setlist.
DiCaprio and Pitt are so good, you wish they had more scenes together. Their banter is friendly and mutually supportive, reminiscent of the kind guys have with one, maybe two, special friends in their lives who are as close as brothers but fall just short of husband and wife. The film is a captivating ensemble piece, effectively carried by the brash confidence of its performers, with recognizable faces in small but impactful roles: Dakota Fanning plays a lippy Squeaky Fromme, Bruce Dern is an enigmatic George Spahn, Timothy Olyphant is his own brand of cool and collected, Zoë Bell is a firecracker in her lone scene, and the late Luke Perry, who died in March, shows up as an actor on-set for a pivotal scene for both the project and Dalton.
More on Dalton: "adapt or die" could be any industry's unwritten motto, and it's one Dalton seems to wish he could employ as he frequently breaks down in tears about his waning career. Sure, he could head to Italy and dip his toes in spaghetti Westerns, but isn't this supposed to be Hollywood? A location that should be handing roles to a successful, instantly recognizable actor as opposed to one who typecasts them, if casts you at all? There's certainly humor in Dalton abruptly breaking down when faced with the reality of his situation, but there's a relatable desperation inside of him, one that comes to a head after he stumbles through his lines on set one day, and gives himself a mean, violent pep-talk in his trailer soon after (anyone who has worked in some form of entertainment will see that scene as eminently relatable).
It's difficult to talk about the ending without spoiling it, which I refuse to do. The whole film is an evocation that isn't only transfixed by nostalgia but simultaneously upset and disgusted with how the 60s peace/love movement was undermined by the "f***ing hippies," not to mention the elephant in the room, Manson himself. Tarantino pays little mind to Manson's personal story, with his only appearance being a blink-and-you-miss-it moment early in the film, and a revisionist third act that shows you what could've been, for Dalton, Tate, and Hollywood as a whole. It's bloody fun; a cheerful display of barbaric violence with brushes of unconventional humor, yet it's also beautifully optimistic. It's the kind of loaded sequence that Tarantino distills so wonderfully. It reminds you that the filmmaker is still masterfully gifted when it comes to blending genres, especially within the same scene. Beyond the ending, consider the scene at the Spahn Ranch, which is about ten minutes of uneasy suspense as Cliff is a fish out of water, surrounded by the hippies he loathes.
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is as sexy and as decorated as a midlife crisis movie could be. Quentin Tarantino, who has stated his retirement is coming sooner than we'd like to see, understandably feels lost in what is now Hollywood — a powerhouse defined by franchises and blockbusters, with little room for the glaring fiction featuring the handsome, chiseled heroes we once knew and embraced. I spent a good portion of this week reminding friends and coworkers that Tarantino is one of the only American directors who can dictate his own rules when making a movie; he can demand the concept, the actors, the budget, and final cut privileges, and get his way. Don't forget Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is Tarantino's first to be distributed by a studio that isn't The Weinstein Company. That alone leaves hope that the filmmaker will continue to find ways to have his true brand of unorthodox films be seen far and wide, even in changing times. It's best to leave on a note as optimistic as this film does.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Zoë Bell, Scott McNairy, Damon Herriman, Harley Quinn Smith, and Rumer Willis. Directed by: Quentin Tarantino.