Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” – is the tale of two buddies’ encounter with the infamous Manson family in 1969. This movie is not what you’d expect in more ways than one.
Over the past decade, Quentin Tarantino has delved into the world of the spaghetti western in a trilogy that includes “Inglorious Basterds,” “Django Unchained,” and “The Hateful Eight.” In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” QT abandons the genre… but not entirely.
The film is set in 1969, a year in which the film industry is undergoing something of a change. Spaghetti westerns were on the rise and slapstick espionage films were top billing in local theatres. These are QT’s bread and butter and we know as such because about 2/3 of the film is somewhat of an homage to those genres.
Rick Dalton, a falling star of the 1950s (played by a stellar Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (portrayed by an even better Brad Pitt) fall victim to this change of scenery. After being told that his recent stint as the “heavy” in shows like “FBI” and “The Green Hornet” was Hollywood’s way of kicking him out of the industry by agent Marvin Schwarzs (played amazingly by Al Pacino) Dalton expresses just how much he hates spaghetti westerns.
It seems, however, that he doesn’t have much of a choice.
After Booth returns Dalton, who can no longer drive for reasons I will not explain here, home, we learn that rising star Sharon Tate (played brilliantly by Margot Robbie) and husband Roman Polanski have just moved into the house next door. This gives Dalton new-hope, as he expresses because he’s just “one pool party” away from a starring role in a motion picture.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” then shifts its attention over to Cliff Booth, Rick Dalton’s unemployed stunt double. Booth’s life at this point has been relegated to being Dalton’s errand boy and personal driver.
His reputation follows him wherever he goes, making it near impossible for him to secure a job in a competitive Hollywood scene. Having been accused of “murdering his wife and getting away with it,” Tarantino allows us to see what Booth’s actual relationship was with his wife. But did he kill her? You’ll have to watch to find out (or not).
It seems, however, that Booth is perfectly content with being Dalton’s go-to guy.
Booth’s character comes into full-form on the set of “The Green Hornet,” where Dalton had to beg in order for Booth to be hired. Here a fight sequence between Bruce Lee and Booth results in laughter and serious martial arts skills, leaving you wondering why Booth wasn’t the star all along.
The scene in which one of Charlie Manson’s girl’s Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) has Cliff Booth drive her to the Spahn Movie Ranch, where Manson’s cult seems to have set up shop, is by far the tensest in the entire film. Here we meet Squeaky (Dakota Fanning) who sleeps with George Spahn (Bruce Dern) in order for Manson’s cult to stay on the ranch.
Troubled by what he sees at the Ranch, Booth demands to see George, but the cult seems to do everything to prevent this from happening. Will Both make it out of the Ranch alive?
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” then jumps 6-months ahead. Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are returning to the states from a stint filming spaghetti westerns in Italy. Dalton has to break it to Booth that he can’t afford to keep him on as a personal assistant of sorts anymore.
This kicks off a night of drinking only two close brothers know about. It also kicks off the most Tarantino-esque portion of the film.
In comes a narrator, whom we rarely hear from in the first 2-hours of the film.
In comes a trio of Manson’s girls and one dude named … “Rex?”
In comes the type of revisionist history only QT knows how to get the best out. Prepare to laugh, cringe, and applaud as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth collide with the type of murderous cult you never want to see yourself in front of.
Over his career, QT has revolutionized the art of filmmaking and has essentially created a genre all of his own. Like always, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is like nothing Tarantino has done before, making us wonder why he wants to hang it up after his 10th film?
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My only hope is that he has a change of heart sometime between here and his supposed final film.