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Quentin Tarrantino hits all the right notes on his 9th film – which essentially is his love-letter to the hippy bare-footed, Hollywood loving Los Angeles of 1969.
The movie follows the fortunes of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor near the end of his career and his stunt-double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). It just so happens that Dalton lives next door to the beautiful actress Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie), and over the course of the film we see how their lives play out amongst Playboy mansion parties, cowboy movie sets, trailer vans, cinemas and nightclubs, a rather hungry pitbull dog and a murderous cult headed by one Charles Manson.
Part buddy movie, part Western and part nostalgic time piece – Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is not delivered in your typical sharp bursts of Tarrantino kinetic energy, with blood-soaked scenes of violence interspersed with long talk-fests of dialogue (although the final act is one of the craziest and brutal scenes he’s probably ever filmed).
In fact, nothing really happens (in terms of exposition and plot) in the first hour and a half of the film. We first see Dalton and Booth meeting up with agent Marvin Schwarz (played by a surprisingly restrained Al Pacino) and then you see them driving around Hollywood, learning lines, watching TV, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and waiting around movie sets. Meanwhile Sharon Tate is seen attending glamorous parties, dancing to Paul Revere and the Raiders and watching movies.
Oh, and there’s also the task of feeding a hungry pitbull and fixing a broken television aerial on a rooftop.
Not exactly riveting stuff.
But in the hands of Quentin Tarrantino – it makes for one very stylish period piece.
The deliberate pace (which has irked some fans for its slowness) plays more like an epic cruisy Sunday drive in the Summertime – and I didn’t mind that at all. It’s great to just sit back and watch a golden age of Los Angeles at its nostalgic best go by.
Wearing a yellow Hawaiian Shirt – Brad Pitt cruises along Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard in DiCaprio’s 1966 Cadillac Coupe De Ville (and then later in his own beaten- up 66 Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia).
Speeding down Laurel Canyon and then across the bridge to Van Nuys back to his trailer behind the Paramount Drive-In Movie Theatre – it’s a great sequence (beautifully shot by legend cinematographer Robert Richardson).
All the while he’s playing tunes on the car radio that are of the time – from Joe Cocker, Neil Diamond, Los Bravos, Jose Feliciano, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Simon & Garfunkel, and Bob Seger.
Tarrantino is famous for selecting great songs for full effect, and here he doesn’t disappoint with a soundtrack of late 60’s gems. Here’s a couple:
Listen to ‘Ramblin Gamblin Man’ by Bob Seger (below).
Listen to ‘Bring A Little Lovin’ by Los Bravos (below).
The driving scene is one my favourite scenes of the movie. You get a real sense of what Los Angeles was like in the year 1969, and Tarrantino manages to capture it brilliantly.
My other favourite scene is a hilarious one involving Pitt again. This time he’s fighting the great Martial Artist Bruce Lee (played by a convincing Mike Moh). The scene has drawn a lot of controversy from critics as well as Bruce Lee’s family – even Pitt was against the idea according to an article from Indiewire.
For me, it’s just damn funny and establishes Pitts’ character as one mean-mother of a stunt man you don’t mess with.
It’s one of Brad Pitts’ better roles – as he smoothly channels a cool Steve McQueen ruggedness to the part.
While Pitt’s Cliff Booth is in Enter The Dragon mode, Leo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is in Cowboy Clint Eastwood mode – coughing up a hangover from the night before and forgetting his lines while acting a scene in a Western movie. With the help of a young child actress (and a mental breakdown in his trailer), he slowly gets his acting chops back – and it’s a joy to watch.
It’s another great turn for Di Caprio – and it looks like he’s just having a great old time playing the “down-but-not-quite-out” actor.
With Rick Daltons’ movie star status descending into making Italian spaghetti westerns – you see the rise of actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). She’s living the picture-perfect movie-star lifestyle – as you watch her with famous director husband Roman Polanski, driving in a classic sports car to the famous Playboy Mansion, and mingling with other L.A ‘A-Listers’ which include famous movie legend Steve McQueen (played by a subdued Damian Lewis).
On first appearance Margot Robbie’s role seems to be played just for sheer glamour and looks, but she brings a warm charm and positive energy that’s infectious on the big screen. Especially so when you see her joy and delight in the scene when she watches herself in a movie of which she is a co-star – at the famous Bruin Cinema in Westwood.
The real-life Sharon Tate was murdered in horrible circumstances in 1969 (brutally stabbed while pregnant along with three others in her home), by followers of the Charles Manson cult.
Knowing the tragic history behind her death, I was watching her scenes with a sad sense of forboding of what would happen to her later.
But then I forgot – this is a Quentin Tarrantino movie.
Like his other semi-historical film – the World War 2 set ‘Inglorious Basterds’, Tarrantino plays with history again, and twists the facts – resulting in one crazy (and bloody) finale.
In an odd way it’s a satisfying ending. One that only Quentin Tarrantino could get away with.