Tinsel Town is a superficial but glamorous world were dreams can be made and can be broken. Quentin Tarantino’s ninth movie Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a colorful and richly textured narrative set on the cusp of the end of a tumultuous decade: 1969. The film interweaves fictional and non-fictional stories that meander around and through the sprawling City Of Angels.
Tarantino takes us on a comical and dramatic ride across the old Hollywood landscape of familiar iconic images, neon advertising, and catchy sound bytes from old radio jingles, and includes a swinging sixties soundtrack. Superb cinematography captures the hazy light of the Californian sun along with a frivolous LA lifestyle. He keeps making movies that we love and or love to hate, and critics and audience alike are divided about his new movie, but l have only admiration and respect for someone who keeps making and breaking his own cinematic rules.
Now, the plot. Middle-aged Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an alcoholic fifty-something TV star from the once high rating prime time TV Western show “Bounty Law”. He relies on his best buddy and longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), the fearless war veteran and wife killer, to be his on call chauffeur and gofer. Their relationship is loosely based on the seventies movie star Burt Reynolds and his stunt double relationship with Hal Needham, and if you’re real keen to follow it up, there is documentary titled The Bandit (Jesse Moss, 2016) that can be viewed on YouTube. However, times have changed and Hollywood is evolving, and Dalton finds he is on the bottom of the pile, and so hooks up with agent/producer Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) to help boost his waning career.
Meanwhile a true-to-life subplot focuses on Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafat Zawierucha), who have moved in next door to Dalton on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. The scene is set for what we know as the infamous Manson Family murders. Robbie is perfect as the “freewheelin’” actress, and her alone time at the picture-house when she spots a screening of her new movie The Wrecking Crew (Karlson, 1968) starring Dean Martin, is a clever Tarantino pop-culture/art-house self-reflective mash-up of actor playing actor watching actor.
There is an intersection of plots (as well as interesting car-following camera work) when the light yellow Cadillac driven by Booth passes through the canyon and city streets of Los Angeles. He has been checking out the hippie Chick known as Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), who’s been hanging on Bourbon Boulevard, he gives her a ride to Shawn Ranch, once a film lot for Bounty Law, but is now home to the Manson family. There is an eerie stillness in the air, and when the Manson girls at the ranch slowly move in on Booth (a clever stylistic reference to the old western movie trope), he wangles his way out of it and shoots through before confronting the rodent Manson murderer Tex Watson (Austin Butler).
Pitt’s Booth is a combat-cool character who was living in a caravan park with his pit bull behind Van Nuys Drive-In until he moved in with Dalton. As for DiCaprio, he nails his role, reveling in the chronic anxieties and insecurities of a low-key actor who knows that he can’t act, yet keeps trying to quench his fame addiction by giving in and starring in spaghetti westerns. And so it goes in Tinsel town!
Tarantino does not always cut it for me, but I am pleased to say this film does. I recommend everyone jump in for the wild bumpy ride.