Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s latest self-conscious, historically revisionist, and ultra violent film (though not til the very ending) is somewhat different from his other recent notables films, like Django Unchained or The Hateful Eight. It stars: Leonardo Dicaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch and others. It is Tarantino’s ninth film (he once said he will likely make ten films and then retire).
The first half of the movie is about Rick Dalton, a washed up 1950s Western film star from an old series called Bounty Law. He is an alcoholic and a vain, emotional wreck who lives in the Hollywood hills next to Roman Polanski. Dalton spends much of his time with his stunt double, Cliff Booth, a true cowboy and former veteran who lives in a trailer on the outskirts of town by the drive-in movie theater. He is rumored to have murdered his wife in a boating accident, and thus he has had trouble finding work. Dalton finally gets them both employment as the villain in a Western, and the plot shifts to Booth who gets kicked off the set after beating up Bruce Lee in a hilarious scene. Booth picks up a hitchhiking hippie and takes her back to the ranch where she and her hippie friends are squatting (though Booth remembers as it as an old set for Bounty Law). In a tense scene he confronts the owner who is feeble and forgetful in the backroom. He returns to his car and beats up a hippie who has deflated his tire. These hippies are members of Charles Manson’s “family.” Meanwhile, Dalton’s performance in the new movie is a success and he finds work in Sergio Corbucci Spaghetti Westerns in Italy (clearly based on Sergio Leone). Booth joins him in Italy and is featured in a couple films. They return home and Dalton has a new wife and says he no longer needs Booth’s services. Booth smokes an acid-laced cigarette he had received from the hippie a long time ago. That night, the members of Charles Manson’s crew descend on the Hollywood Hills to murder Sharon Tate at Roman Polanski’s house, however after Dalton comes out and yells at them, they decide to murder him instead.
The film closes with a funny but disturbing scene of grotesque violence as Booth orders his dog to attack. Booth beats up another one of the Manson kids, and finally one is put to death by a flamethrower brandished by Dalton in his swimming pool (an old prop from one of his movies). The ordeal leads Dalton to become friends with his neighbors, Polanski and Tate. Thus, they were never killed by the Manson group and order is restored. With the magic of old Hollywood, anything is possible.
Tarantino’s latest is unusual. I was fascinated by the relationship between the fragile mess-of-an-actor in Dalton’s character, as well as his stronger all-American stunt double friend and protector in Booth. It is sort of an odd quixotic yet mutually dependent relationship. However, at the end of the film I was left asking myself, why such a long backstory to both characters? What is the point? In the end, the film is some form of a fable, or perhaps even an ode to a time gone by, when anything was possible in old Hollywood. It is the product of a maturing, and more reflective Tarantino, despite his many challenges. Perhaps Tarantino will be remembered as one of the greats. Or perhaps he will be remembered as a sugar-addicted kid in a candy store -his films are so brazenly filled with unnecessary violence, sex, and other gratuity, in conjunction with his shady relationship with disgraced former Hollywood strong-arm producer, Harvey Weinstein (who even sexually assaulted Uma Thurman during the filing of Kill Bill, which led Tarantino to confront Weinstein not for the first time about sexual abuse allegations). As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less and less entranced by Tarantino’s films. The teenage boy in me thinks they are fun, but the adult in me finds fewer enduring artistic merits to his films.