In the ninth film of Quentin Tarantino, he invites us all to see a picture between fiction and the real story of Hollywood in the 60s. Through a story about an actor and his stuntman trying to stay well-known, it’s not wrong if this movie tempts us by changing the dark history into “what if” story. Similar to “Inglourious Basterds“, what if the Manson family is destroyed in this film? With this goal in mind, we wish what if Hollywood remains at the pinnacle of gold. You can recall such a movie especially Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West“, a little nod to the title and one of the Tarantino biggest influenced.
It’s nice to see a new Tarantino film where revenge and hatred didn’t become a benchmark for the main characters and stories. Enjoying this film was different from enjoying other Tarantino films or films in general. It’s more like a slice of life of Hollywood in the 60s rather than focusing more on Sharon Tate and the Manson family. In a nutshell, you can call this movie as a love letter to Hollywood written by Tarantino himself. Hollywood is a magnificent castle to us and Tarantino as well. It’s a paradise where a text can be transferred into a moving image. And we still witness it until now. To recall Tarantino’s perspective of Hollywood, I appreciate this film as an art rather than a film.
Young actors become old. Sooner or later, everything will be replaced. It’s like an update where people get bored with the old and want a new one. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was previously successful with his western cowboy series titled “Bounty Law”. Now, Dalton is no longer the main star. In various series, he always gets the role of antagonist. Not to mention, in the first episode, the director wants to kill his character. Dalton is no longer the hero anymore. At the end of the ’60s, he always played as the supporting cast only.
A mixture of fiction and facts like this movie is a nice idea to see in a cinema. Tarantino parallels a fictional story, especially the character of Rick Dalton to 60s Hollywood reality. Just like Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape” or what if Jews as Basterds stands alone and the Nazis were down. And Tarantino is the man. Tarantino, since “Pulp Fiction“, shows a replacement picture of the times in the action genre. You can call it the pulp fiction genre where fiction is just uneven pulp. He treated all his actors like an actor, not just an actor or character only. He gives all the space freely without having to make a distance between him and the actors.
This movie contains a collection of moments of Hollywood, how Tarantino’s love towards filmmaking. For Tarantino, films aren’t just a movie but, like your favorite director, they are more than a movie. “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” has light narratives, wacky dialogues in the style of Tarantino, and the oddball comedy. This movie builds the story without thinking you are no longer looking for where is the conflict or what is the point. This is a 161-runtime movie without any conflict in the first and second act; except the pay-off at the end of the movie. If you don’t know anything about Sharon Tate or don’t know all the references, this movie might be boring for you. But, you just keep wondering how the story begins to the end of the meeting between Dalton and Booth (Brad Pitt) with Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski.
Tarantino is one of the most controversial directors ever for at least he was making a great movie through the controversial subject. For Tarantino, he didn’t have to deal with how this movie doesn’t impress exploitative to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. But, he also had to deal with Bruce Lee’s daughter regarding the depiction of her late father. As the subtext, it works very well. The fact Cliff Booth as a stuntman face-to-face against Bruce Lee, it’s so funny. If you still don’t understand why this is a ridiculous representation of a real person, you have to watch it again to understand the context.
I think for Tarantino, dealing with all these controversies is his daily life and he is used to it. He has faced the reason why Tarantino used too much racial slur to all his movies to Spike Lee. I can’t imagine who else directors like Tarantino, besides Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, and others. It’s just sad later if Tarantino would retire when he already makes his tenth film. Even sadder, a rumor was heard when he was going to direct “Star Trek”.
Everyone can protest about the depiction of a real character in a movie. Especially also Charles Manson as a sacred character. I do have to say Charles Manson in this film doesn’t appear too much. The movie only focuses on Cliff Booth and his relationship with a hippie girl connected to all of the events. And the pay-off, the exaggerated at the end of the movie, is just magnificent to see. Brad Pitt, not only immediately sneaked into the Manson sect in the middle of the desert, pulled off all the psychopaths. Even Dalton and his flamethrower just relieved to see all which. Indeed, the end of the movie is funny and creates a sense of ambiguity in a violence movie, especially about gender issues. Tarantino is the only man who can do that and can accept the consequences.
What I love about Tarantino is also how he can make the most boring scenes into one of the most interesting scenes. This is a three-hour movie, almost, without many action scenes. There are no scenes of violence except at the end of the movie. Most of the scene consists of characters sit and tell each other. Most of the time, one scene can reach 10 more minutes to make one punchline. And to be honest, this is a very, very funny movie. There is a sequence between Rick Dalton and a little girl talking about the book they are reading. There is also a sequence where DiCaprio becomes over-the-top and can’t take it anymore.
One of my favorite scenes is when DiCaprio and Pitt were talking in the background with snacks on the table and watching their TV series. It’s one of the relatable sequences like in real life. Whatever who you are, a psycho, a serial killer, everybody loves talking about movies. You can also find one of the prominent examples in “Reservoir Dogs“, especially in the first scene. A group of people, you especially don’t know their name, talk about Madonna’s song. There is nothing special about the scene but it’s so interesting just to see these people, you know they are criminals, just like us, normal people.
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” is like a fairy tale before going to sleep, like “Inglourious Basterds” or “Django Unchained”. This movie also has several easter eggs to Tarantino’s previous films. But, for a slice of life film about Hollywood in the 60s, this movie has the best acting I have ever seen in my whole life. I don’t know when else to see the best combination duo between Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. This is Robert Redford and Paul Newman. This is James Stewart and John Wayne. Just amazing how Tarantino puts all of these characters into absurd yet comical events.
There is one sequence where DiCaprio has so many layers in himself. He must play the role of a terrifying antagonist who always forgets his line. There is Brad Pitt with his reaction who always remembers his fantasies and wild memories too. The chemistry between the two is also amazing even though the movie doesn’t show too much of them both directly on the screen. Most of the time, they only stand out in one frame. There is Margot Robbie as just a charming girl without having to do much on screen. And her feet also. Yeah, Tarantino doesn’t give us too much violence but he gives us a shot of feet. You will love it.
Talking about the shortcomings of this film, maybe I can’t forget the fact this is a pointless movie. But, it’s not because there is a reason why Tarantino wants to write stories like this. Because he is Tarantino at the end of the day. Yet, I find the third act was a bit forced where there is a leap in the period with the narration. I know this movie is almost three hours without conflict but at least he has something to do much with the third act.
To look for flaws, especially as for me, I didn’t get too many of them. Unless, this is a hard movie especially if you don’t know much about Hollywood in the 60s, Manson family, Sharon Tate, and a lot of references. This is probably a missing piece, in contrast to “Inglourious Basterds” where everyone knows who the Nazis are. But, maybe this is a difficult film, especially for those who feel themselves alienated because of this movie.
This is one of the films I have been waiting for the most this year, considering I can’t watch it at the cinema because there were obstacles. Indeed, this movie and “Weathering with You” air the same day in my place. But, after a long wait, I was finally able to watch this movie. “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” is more of a “fun” style of Tarantino compared to his previous films. The twisted dark comedy is there, the story is fun, a lot of comical characters, and the post-credit at the end of the funny was shocking me. The uniqueness of this film lies in how Tarantino explores the golden age of Hollywood like cinema, art, love, and passion. To conclude, this is a fantastic movie.
4.5 out of 5 stars.