Let me tell you I love Quentin Tarantino’s movies. I’ve seen all of them – including some of the less popular ones – so I was pretty excited to go see “Once upon a time in Hollywood” with a cool looking trailer and a 3h runtime close to the Avengers & LoTR zones.
With huge A listers like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie and former A-listers like Al Pacino and Kurt Russell, the movie also drops names from the past of Hollywood that some people might recognize and some might not.
Movie is set in 1969 Los Angeles – a time when hippies were NOT all the rage but could be seen everywhere and Spaghetti Westerns were still popular. The movie finds DiCaprio starring as ageing TV star Rick Dalton alongside Pitt’s Cliff Booth, who is Dalton’s longtime stunt double. Together, the two are attempting to adapt and survive in an ever-changing Los Angeles.
In the first half of the movie we follow “Rick” as he goes from a relatively known star to be cast to play baddie roles and then destined to be forgotten – something that a.) DiCaprio never has to worry about and b.) is every actor’s worst nightmare.
“Booth” is his companion in all this – his handyman, his chauffeur and and his stunt double. A man of few words and many talents, including the ability to fist fight Bruce Lee and survive and some pretty good talents which become visible at the end of the movie.
Bruce Lee: My hands are registered as lethal weapons. We get into a fight, I accidentally kill you. I go to jail.
Cliff Booth: Anybody accidentally kills anybody in a fight, they go to jail. It’s called manslaughter.
Margot Robbie then portrays Sharon Tate, Dalton’s neighbour and budding model/actress who is excited to see her name on the movie posters, goes on dancing at the Playboy mansion with the then-famous and now-infamous Polanski and lives in the next-door mansion to “Rick”.
There were a few scenes that were quite cute (like Rick talking about actor ethics with his 8-year old co-star) and giving a great baddie performance. And a few great stories including a hippie-overrun farm and Booth who gets his boss’s tire slashed and changed within the same day by breaking a few teeth.
And there was a lot of padding to this movie which made me shift in my seat. A lot of shots of “old” LA, cars driving, people talking about other people, people watching old-time TV. I get it, we’re true to the era, we’re showing off what we know about how people lived back then.
I was struggling to be interested and I was wondering where all the plot lines were going. There was even a scene where “Booth” notices a guy walk up to the Polanski residence and knock on the door and ask for the previous owners and there’s an eye exchange between Sharon Tate and the visitor. I was like – who is he? Is he an ex? New Lover? Side dish? We never get to see him again in the movie.
Only afterwards I found out that the person was actually Charles Manson (not the actual thing but played by Damon Herriman). And I also found out that Sharon Tate was infamously murdered by the Manson Family.
The bad bits:
- Movie is all over the place. For 2h, I was wondering whether it’s going anywhere.
- Loads of “empty” moments where “Rick” is coughing, spitting in the ground, asking for directions, where “Booth” is driving either his car or his boss’s car, people walking from point A to point B. The scene where Sharon Tate went to her own movie was super long and could have been cut in half with the same effect. I mean there’s even a scene of Sharon Tate snorring and Polanski having a coffee in the morning after a party… useless..
- Robbie is given disappointingly little to do aside from look gorgeous
The Good Bits:
- The costumes were chic and perfectly chosen for all the people involved – the movie is very colourful to the shirts worn and the cars driven to how the settings were brought to life with neon lights.
- When we have interludes from the plot, we get to see actual scenes from the movies that Rick played in: Kill Me Quick, Ringo, Said the Gringo) and Bond knockoffs (Operazione Dyn-o-mite) all shot in 1:1 aspect ratio and with the grain and film specific to that era.
- I liked the western posters with DiCaprio in them
- The acting is top notch! Each characters does an “Inception” dive into their own character on screen. An actor acting like and actor in a movie where he is actually a paid actor.
- I liked the portrayal of the day-to-day life of an actor and his stuntman
- Very rare for a Quentin Tarantino film, some scenes contained improvisation, particularly when Rick Dalton forgets his lines in “Lancer” and rants to himself privately in his trailer afterwards. Leonardo DiCaprio had a very difficult time playing Dalton’s roles as Dalton would, rather than how he himself would, especially since Dalton is supposed to be an actor of hidden range, so he suggested Dalton forgetting his lines mid-scene to ironically help him stay in character as Dalton. The following scene in the trailer was also unscripted.
- The scene in the Hippie House? Pure gold. All the actors are really good and Brad Pitt shines in his acting. The classic Western element of a cocksure stranger moseying into a town where he’s met by suspicious gazes fits neatly with Tarantino’s thematic interest in the outsize influence of Hollywood on American life.
- Ummm, Brad Pitt takes off his shirt to fix an antena and I was one of the many girls in the audience going ooooh. He’s what, 50? Freaking good looking.
- There were some comedic scenes and they hit the spot when they came on.
- The last 30 minutes of the movie were pure gold (climactic explosion of graphic violence to be more honest). It was worth waiting 2h and something to get to see them. I won’t spoil them as it would be bad for the movie goers but let me tell you that I wasn’t the only one at the edge of the seat. People were gesticulating in the cinema like football fans when their favourite team either looses badly or is close to a win.
These three definitely did it!
PS: Young DiCaprio and young Pitt: