It’s been a while since Quentin Tarantino released a feature film, and anticipation is notably high for his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Set in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood, former Western TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his long-time stunt double/full-time gopher Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) are struggling to make it. In Dalton’s words, “It’s official, old buddy; I’m a has-been”.
Wallowing in the pity of his declining stardom, Dalton has one thing going for him: at the peak of his career he purchased a home on Cielo Drive because he was determined to set himself up for success. Apparently that included surrounding himself with famous neighbours. His next-door neighbours are about to get a lot more famous … Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate.
Based loosely on the true-life events leading up to Tate’s brutal murder in her home by Charles Manson’s notorious Manson Family cult members, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is less a historical retelling and more of a dazzling homage to the golden age of Hollywood.
Tarantino’s unique filmmaking style is evident in every single frame, jampacked with hidden references and homages; however it’s the dynamic between DiCaprio and Pitt that steals the show. I would argue these are both DiCaprio’s and Pitt’s best performances in years; both offer vulnerability with a healthy dose of humour. The difference here is striking from Tarantino’s usual tough, Nazi-scalping, Royale-eating, kung-fu-fighting heroes. The biggest threat to face these characters is obsolescence.
What really sets Once Upon a Time in Hollywood apart from Tarantino’s eight previous flicks, though, is the measured use of violence. There is hardly a drop of blood throughout the 2.5-hour film despite one of the main characters beimg a stuntman; rather the film is propelled by dramatic dialogue. The film builds up to an action-packed, realistically graphic, suspenseful seven-minute sequence. (Let’s call it a wild ending.)
Though long, Tarantino weaves reality with fiction and delivers something truly unique.