Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood
Written by Kevin Tanza on August 27, 2019
Being yourself in times of crisis is one of the biggest challenges that you are going to face as an artist. Modern day Hollywood has been going through a creative crisis of sorts where the vast majority of films that we see every week are adaptations, remakes, reboots and many similar things, with creative and original films becoming more of a rarity these days.
In this regard, Quentin Tarantino has proven to be one of the last great storytellers of the filming industry, which is fitting considering that his latest film, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, is not only a very solid effort, but also an example of modern day counterculture in these days that we are infested with political correctness in every art form.
This film takes us to the late 60s, a time considered the last golden age of Hollywood cinema, to tell us the story of declining western actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt), all the different elements that constituted Hollywood in those years and a plot that worked as a tribute of sorts to the late actress Sharon Tate (Robbie), who was murdered by the Charles Manson cult (another subplot of the movie).
Being almost three hours long and written by Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood has a slow build-up but every scene keeps you interested on the way there and it’s a very interesting reflection of the film industry in the late 60s–you don’t need to have a lot of knowledge of that historical period to enjoy this film (although it will certainly make you enjoy it even more). In terms of visuals, every scene and angle takes you back to that historical period, with the added bonus of several movies tidbits from the times that work as both a tribute and developing the setting.
Of course, DiCaprio and Pitt steal the show in this film: Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth’s friendship, camaraderie and story is the heart of the story, having comedy, entertainment and a genuine feel that works quite well. From the moment that the movie starts, Tarantino explains who they are and what they do, quickly developing Rick’s struggling career and Cliff’s cool and problematic personality, which allows us to carry on in the film with a certain knowledge of who they are, why they do the things they do and, most important, make us care about them.
While Rick and Cliff are characters defined by action, highly emotional scenes like Rick’s continuous emotional breakdowns for his career and the friendship and support that defines their brotherhood, Robbie’s Sharon Tate interpretation is a lot more subtle and solemn, paying tribute to a charming actress that was victim of a tragedy. A lot of critics said that her having few lines was “sexism”, but I think that is a fundamentally stupid logic given that many times less is more and silence can have a huge impact if done well, which is exactly that Tarantino’s film does here: it shows Sharon with grace and class without sacrificing impact or artistic quality.
The Charles Manson subplot was a very interesting situation, where, at least in my view, Tarantino’s skills as a storyteller were at its best in this film. Rather than focusing on Manson, the film focuses on the cult, providing a very somber and sinister element to the story, which makes a very healthy balance. Cliff’s scene in Manson’s ranch stands as one of the most tension-filled moments of the entire movie and it’s a personal favorite of mine.
Another element that had a lot of attention was Tarantino’s interpretation of Bruce Lee, with even her daughter complaining about depicting Lee as an arrogant fighter and actor. While I am no expert when it comes to Bruce Lee’s life and personality, I can say that it works with the movie and it doesn’t hurt Lee’s legacy in the sense that having committed mistakes or being arrogant is something that we all have done at least once in our lives.
The third act is definitely the best part of the whole film, where they go full Tarantino and the craziness goes all guns blazing. This is where the beauty of Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood lies: this third act is the proof that they don’t give an absolute damn about political correctness and just went for it, doing at least three or four things that I’m sure are deemed “offensive” for a lot of sensitive folks. But it fits with the story’s themes and the director’s usual modus operanti, even using an element that was briefly mentioned at the beginning of the movie (for those that already saw the movie, you know what I mean).
As a whole, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is a delightful and very well-crafted story that also highlights a time where the film industry was in a very particular high note, plus having some very solid performances from his three main actors and a skillful director that doesn’t hold back, especially with the climax.
In 2019, where most art forms are mostly executed based on consensus and not taking any real risk because they are too scared of offending a certain group of people, we need artists that are willing to take risks and go for the jugular, which is what has defined Tarantino throughout the years and Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is a very good entry to the works of a very talented director.