Despite this being his ninth picture, ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ does not feel like a Quentin Tarantino film. It has all the Tarantino touches, fetishes, and obsessions on display (the excessive profanity, graphic violence, and gratuitous shots of bare feet), but it is the director at his most restrained and mellow; relying more on the glitz, glamour, and nostalgia of 60’s culture. Tarantino has crafted a time capsule I could fully immerse myself in, and the style shows. For once, I felt like I was transported back to a time where the Golden Age of Hollywood was ending and the Manson Murders reached infamy (I didn’t say it was all pleasant).
No time was wasted on perfecting every detail present in the 60’s, from movie posters and cineplexes to real-world products and fictional TV shows; Tarantino can even brandish his 60’s soundtracks to provide fitting music. Yet, at its core, ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ is an ode to a cinematic age long since past, only to remain in the hearts and minds of film lovers, especially Tarantino himself. Here is a man clearly influenced by the medium that made him the auteur he is. If you look at his previous films and study the art form, you can see that he “borrows heavily” from films that inspire his work. One may call him either a rip-off artist or a pure cinephile paying homage to the films he loves. However you see it, there is no denying that ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ may be Tarantino’s most personal work.
His understanding of the industry comes in the form of famed actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Dalton’s friend, driver, and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Though they put in respectable work, their personal lives, thoughts and fears are showcased behind-the-scenes. Rick is well-respected, and lives off his riches in a fancy condo filled with booze and memorabilia from films past, yet with more opportunities in TV from his leading man role in the TV Western ‘Bounty Law’ to guest appearances and villain roles in other shows, he feels he is losing touch with his audience; fading away to nothing more than “a has-been”. While Cliff is on the opposite side of the coin; he is not as famous, nor respected even (his past is even suspiciously shady). He even lives in a trailer next to the drive-in. Yet he is content just being there for Rick and feeding his pit bull after a hard day’s work “carrying the load” Rick is faced with.
Tarantino spends a good chunk of time going back-and-forth between the two, yet has not forgotten the reason he made this movie in the first place with the addition of Sharon Tate (Gleefully played by Margot Robbie), then-wife of director Roman Polanski and eventual murder victim of the Manson “family”, as she has a decent amount of screen time. Though the Manson “family”, let alone Charles Manson (Damon Herriman), and the events leading up to that infamous moment in history are not as important as they are integral to setting up a third act that, without spoiling anything, could be described as “suspenseful”, “shocking”, and “brutal”.
Despite not seeming to let go of his original concept, Tarantino knows what he is doing with his characters, even if it means letting certain moments drag in order for his audience to spend more time with them, or putting in random voice-over narration that puts the movie to a halt. He knows the film industry is a demanding machine when it comes to giving audiences what they want. In a way, ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ is as much of a satirical commentary as it is a respectful tribute to the end of an era, the way Tarantino can deliver it.