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ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD gets 9/10 Tinseltown terror


Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

9/10

It’s hard to imagine a Quentin Tarantino film that’s primarily about the joys of life, but here we are. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was once a great Hollywood star in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, although now in 1969, his obscurity is ensuing, and he allows himself to be overwhelmed with existential stress and self-loathing. But his stunt-man/assistant Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) acts as his emotional counterpart, a man who’s similarly downtrodden with his waning work in Tinseltown, but he instead keeps his cool as he appreciates what he can get out of life in late ‘60s Los Angeles.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is more like the breezier moments of Pulp Fiction, reminiscent of its moments like Vincent and Mia on a date. Such relaxed sequences like Cliff speeding through the L.A. freeways in a massive tin of a muscle car, or Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) watching herself act on screen in a cinema and quietly delighting in the audiences’ reactions, don’t quite push the story forward like in Tarantino’s more urgent plot-based films (Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill), they merely convey the idyllic atmosphere that this filmmaker nostalgically conjures of this time and place – and once the ending hits, it’s then more apparent than ever how precious life is.

The lives of Rick and Cliff, as they navigate their way getting work on a cowboy TV show, are from Tarantino’s encyclopaedic imagination, but Rick’s next-door neighbour Sharon Tate hinges this film in a tragic part of Hollywood history, where all her own joys seen here are shadowed by this looming reality.

All the worries and woes of Rick are conveyed in tangent to the billowing presence of the Manson Family, situated on Spahn Ranch just outside the city. Charles himself only makes a brief appearance, but it’s his ‘family’, made up of young middle-class-turned-destitute hippies, who offer up a very uncool vibe. While Rick is on set of a TV show, trying amiably not to screw up a single one of his lines, Cliff is on Spahn Ranch, making his way through every bad feeling’s he got just so he can say hi to an old acquaintance, George Spahn, if he’s even there at all – Cliff is making sure he can make the most out of an opportunity for a kind gesture, even if it comes into conflict with the vague forces of evil emanating from the ‘family’.

The sense of dread is so sly, yet entirely palpable, it makes Rick’s own on-set frustrations seem even more minor and hilarious than they should be. It all climaxes with a merging of fact and fiction, which the film executes with gusto because of how much detail has been put in to transport the viewer to this time and place. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a voyage through this moment where one of the world’s central film industries, and the culture around it, changed very dramatically.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

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