So our Editor recently said that if he was writing a script based on his early childhood years it would include TV series the Six Million Dollar man, curly-wurly chocolate bars and Look-In magazine though frankly we thought it would include a family pack of Kleenex and a dog earred issue of Health & Effiiciency (‘You’re Fired!’ – Ed). Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is based on his memories of growing up in LA at a time when the film and TV industry was changing and would culminate with the shocking murder of actress Sharon Tate and her friends by Charles Manson’s lunatic acolyte’s on a terrible summer night in their home.
Here it’s Leonardo’s DiCaprio as Rick Dalton a quickly fading TV star desperate to maintain the fame he has enjoyed to date but now reduced to bit parts in other people’s shows and having to be driven around by his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) due to the star having lost his driving license. It’s early on that Dalton’s agent Al Pacino tells him that he needs to stop accepting the bad guy roles who get defeated all the time in order to maintain his star status and instead go to Italy to make spaghetti westerns – something which Clint Eastwood did to monumental success – but he ignores the advice and takes a role as the bad guy in a TV series directed by Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond) who gives him a bit of a makeover.It’s something that Tarantino himself has done with so many actors fading careers (Travolta, Pam Grier, Robert Forster) and Dalton is one of those actors on the slide brilliantly played by DiCaprio as a stuttering, chain smoking, constantly coughing actor determined to revitalize his career by showing the others how it’s all done and there’s fantastic scene he plays opposite the star of the TV show which Tarantino in typical style plays with the structure of as Dalton fluffs his scenes and beats himself up in his Winnebago about forgetting his lines in front of the crew. It’s doesn’t help him either that there’s a child actor in the TV series who takes herself incredibly seriously as she describes her ‘method’ to Dalton as they rest on set.
Meanwhile it Pitt’s Booth finds himself at a loss hanging around waiting for work which always came from Dalton’s films but which now no longer come quite as readily as Dalton no longer commands the same kind of authority in films and when Booth does get a job he becomes his own worst enemy. It’s best seen in the funniest moment in the whole film with Booth facing off to an incredibly arrogant Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) waxing lyrical about his fists of fury and that his whole body being a lethal weapon (in the same way that Gemma Collins‘ is after Christmas dinner where she’s had too many Brussel sprouts). It is a laugh out loud scene though bound to upset fans of Lee and is probably very unfair to the martial arts fighter too. But this is a Tarantino film with a typically revisionist take on things which become clear as the film continues. It’s Booth who frequently comes across one of Manson’s acolyte’s hanging around on street corners who he eventually gives a lift to the Manson ranch where he and Dalton had shot an old TV show. It’s an ominous scene and it indicator of the film as a whole that its building towards an inevitably grim and well known finale.
Much has been made of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate and in fairness she doesn’t have that many lines but what there is sets up Tate as an actress who loved her work, love her husband Roman Polanski and was as much as in love with Hollywood and films as Tarantino is. It’s all summed up in one sequence where she goes to see a film that she has a role and the theatre manager lets her in to watch it. It’s a beautifully touching scene as Robbie as Tate watches a film starring the real Tate on the cinema screen and taken aback that the rest of the audience are enjoying her performance.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino relishing his memory of Hollywood and there’s no real story to this except a series of meandering vignettes ominously building towards an all too familiar end and there’s marked difference between his script here and his early pop culture referencing scripts notably Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction especially. He’s still bringing in his now obvious foot fetish first glimpsed in the Kill Bill films and for many fans of those earlier films this may disappoint as the film is an enjoyable character study of the three main roles with no signature scenes of violence that usually pepper his films making it curious as to why this is an 18 certificate….that is until you get to the end.
It’s a long film but never really drags and all three central charters are a joy to watch as their stories unfold especially the Booth / Dalton bromance. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is Tarantino’s ode to many things: LA, Hollywood and TV all formative parts of his early life it would seem and this is probably his most mature scripts to date yet at the same time he’s taken up the trend for mid credit sequences which is worth hanging around for as it takes in part of Tarantino’s invented universe. With Kill Bill counted as two films it makes Once Upon a Time in Hollywood the ninth of his self proclaimed ten films before he retires but he could happily go out on a high after this.
Here’s the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood trailer…….