By Afra Nariman
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
Directed by: Quinten Tarantino
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley
A couple days (with 6 months in between them) in the lives of an actor who is having trouble transitioning into the new era of Hollywood films named Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman (played by Brad Pitt). Next door to Rick, lives up-and-coming director Roman Polanksi and his actress wife Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie). The film takes place around the same time of the Manson murders.
From a purely entertainment point of view, few filmmakers can compare with Quinten Tarantino… and few films can compare to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which in my opinion is his best work since his 90’s masterpiece Pulp Fiction. Although he’s had a few incredible films along the way, this one has a different feel around it. Teaming up with two of the best actors working in their prime today, in Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, with the beautiful and extremely talented Margot Robbie as the supporting actress of the film but the star in the film’s side story; Tarantino has created a film with similar construction to Pulp Fiction. Like his 90’s masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells a story spanning a very short amount of time, as far as what’s shown (it has a time skip in between), and it tells a few different stories. The bulk of the film takes place over the course of a single day. The very beginning of the film takes place the day before the main story and the film’s ending takes place months later after a time skip in which a narrator fills us in on what has happened during those months.
The first story revolves around DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, who is an actor on the tail end of his prime acting years. He drinks while he rehearses, he drinks when he’s relaxing in front of the TV and he drinks himself to sleep each night. On the day that the film depicts, Rick, who is down on himself as an actor who is only asked to be the “heavy” (or villain) on TV show pilots, heads to the set of his newest gig. While filming a scene, which Tarantino directs masterfully, integrating it into the film as a whole through intense camera work and creative writing; Rick messes up his lines. During a short break between cuts, Rick returns to his trailer and we are given a classic DiCaprio freakout scene. Outraged and embarrassed at his mistakes and feeling irresponsible for drinking so much, even when he rehearses, Rick screams at himself and even threatens himself in the mirror. This is one of DiCaprio’s all-time finest acting moments. Rick goes on to nail the next scene that they film. The young actress who stars in the scene with him even whispers in his ear after the shot is wrapped up, claiming that she just witnessed the best acting that she has ever seen. Rick ultimately realizes that his good friend and stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) was right when he dropped him off on set that morning and reminded him that he’s “Rick fucking Dalton.”
The second story of the day revolves around Cliff Booth. These days, Cliff mostly works as Rick’s errand boy… happily. After dropping Rick off on set, he returns home to do some needed work around the house. In hopes of getting some work as a stuntman, Cliff takes a break from his labors to head back to Rick’s set. After getting into a hilarious fight with Bruce Lee (and winning), he is kicked off set and returns home. He later goes for a drive, where he picks up “Pussycat,” or “hippie girl.” The two of them head to an old movie ranch where Cliff and Rick used to film their old show. Now, “hippie girl” and her hippie friends live there. Cliff’s scene at the ranch is full of intense anticipation, intriguing conversations and yes, another classic and hilarious fight for Cliff where he knocks someone out.
Lastly, we have the story of Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate. Robbie has revealed that she did her homework on Tate, who was a real actress in the 70s, and tried to capture her carefree, kind essence. Robbie performed magnificently. Sharon’s story doesn’t have a lot of necessary substance, but beautifully captures much of Hollywood in the late 1960s. Her story is fun, light and never overstays its welcome in the film. She gives a ride to a hitchhiker, visits a movie theater to watch her own movie, and hypnotically dances more than once. Although her parts were not additive to the story as a whole, the film would not be the same without Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Sharon Tate and her blissful endeavors.
The film’s peak comes at the very end. It would be wrong for me to attempt to explain the ending in words, so without saying too much, all I will say about the ending is: Brad Pitt’s character is tripping on acid. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is drinking margaritas in the pool at midnight. And in the words of Rick Dalton:
“Oh, these fucking hippie weirdos, they broke into my house.”
His neighbor, Sharon Tate goes on to ask if everybody is okay, to which Rick Dalton responds:
“Well… the fuckin’ hippies aren’t. That’s for goddamn sure.”
As you may be able to infer from that exchange; Tarantino delivers on his signature of violence.
This movie is Quinten Tarantino’s love letter to the city of Los Angeles and the history of Hollywood and movies all together. His knack for being able to construct long, lingering conversations that stretch out into fully immersive scenes is on full display in this film. Once Upon a time in Hollywood is hilarious, engaging, outrageous, lively, exciting and so much more. It’s truly one of the most enjoyable films to watch. It runs about 2 hours and 40 minutes, but the time flies by. Every scene pulls you into the story, which is a testament to Tarantino’s writing and directing. Additionally, the film’s cinematography is captivating and its soundtrack is nostalgically perfect for the film. Once Upon a time in Hollywood is Quinten Tarantino’s newest masterpiece. It delivers on almost all levels of filmmaking and consists of an incredible All-Star cast headlined by Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Austin Butler, Bruce Dern and many others, who carry out the film’s cool, fun and hilariously entertaining vibe.